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Phaneuf makes playing hard look easy

by Staff Writer / Calgary Flames
Alberta hockey players are cut from a cloth that dictates they don't play the game lightly or cut corners. The players from the Western Canada province tend to be as rugged as the terrain.


Hit hard, shoot hard, play the game honest and straightforward. In other words, work harder than your opponent.
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Two strapping examples of hard-playing hockey players are defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Sheldon Souray, both of which were born in Alberta and happen to play for Alberta-based NHL teams.

Phaneuf, a native of Edmonton who stars for the Calgary Flames, owns a booming shot and is also known for throwing booming checks. In, 2005-06, he became the third defenseman in League history to score 20 or more goals as a rookie and he led all blueliners in power-play scores with 16. Phaneuf's slapshot conjured memories of another howitzer from a Flames defenseman, Al MacInnis, arguably the hardest shooter of all-time.

Since then, the goals haven't stopped coming for Phaneuf, adding 17, 17 and 11 in subsequent seasons. In 2009-10, he had 8 through 35 games, on pace to finish with 17.

Though an offensive force, it's Phaneuf's body checks which have forged his reputation.

"I really enjoy playing a physical style and I think one of my biggest strengths is the fact that I am a physical presence on the ice," Phaneuf said.

One person who knows this all too well about Phaneuf is Brent Sutter, his junior coach at Red Deer and now his boss behind the Flames' bench. "He is a tough kid who finishes all his hits and plays very physically down low," Sutter said of a young Phaneuf when he was a member of the Rebels. "He can deliver the big hit and he's able to back up his physical play by dropping the gloves. He is very sound positionally and doesn't get caught up trying to make the big hit like so many junior players seem to. When he decides to hammer someone, though, he is as explosive a hitter as there is in the WHL. He has the ability to change the tone of a game just with his hitting ability alone."
That scouting report has hardly changed a bit in Phaneuf's five NHL seasons, a reason why he received a nomination for the Norris Trophy in 2008. One of Phaneuf's most recent and celebrated hits came in the 2009 preseason when he leveled Kyle Okposo of the Islanders, a winger who stands 6-1 and 200 pounds. Okposo had his head down during the play and Phaneuf (6-3, 214) finished his check just as he would during the regular season, staying true to his style. "He cut through the middle and kind of fumbled the puck and looked down," Phaneuf said. "I stepped up. I definitely thought it was a clean hit."

The collision became a popular Internet search topic and sparked a debate on whether such hard-nosed play had a place during the preseason.

"That's part of my job. When the hits are there, I'm going to take them. I've got to play that physical style," Phaneuf said. "Any time you can contribute, whether it's a hit, scoring a goal or keeping one out of your net you want to do it."

"I expect Dion to play a certain way," Sutter said. "He knows what my expectations are and his accountability to himself and to his teammates. It's all part of it. There's big hits in the game."

Souray, from Elk Point, is also a physical presence but is more known for a big, hard point shot that leaves bruises and flashing goal lights in its wake. Twice in the last four seasons, the Edmonton Oiler has reached the rarified air for defensemen of 20-plus goals in a campaign. It takes a special howitzer to put a scare in goaltenders and defenders, and Souray brings the shot that makes them cringe.

At Edmonton's annual charity-driven skills competition last January, Souray ripped a slapshot that clocked in at 106.7 miles per hour, an unofficial record for the fastest recorded shot. The official record belongs to Zdeno Chara, who hit 105.4 on the radar gun at the 2009 All-Star Game SuperSkills event.

"It's hard," Calgary goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff said of Souray's shot. "He has such an easy motion. Even when you know it's coming, you have a clear look at him, you think you see the puck and then ... it's by you."

"He really brings it," said Carolina netminder Manny Legace. "Having a guy out there firing away at you is a real weapon."

Souray earned an odd nickname when on Dec. 3, 2008, during a 5-2 victory for the Oilers, Dallas Stars broadcaster Ralph Strangis referred to a Souray slapshot as a "thunderblast off the thunderstick of Studly Wonderbomb." The moniker has caught on with Oilers fans.

"You wouldn't believe how the threat of Shelly shooting the puck from back there opens up the ice for us. Certainly, no one wants to go down to try to block his shot," teammate Shawn Horcoff said. "And it's not just his slap shot, either. His wrister or snap shot is faster than the rest of us can get a slap shot to the net."

"It's just plain lethal," former Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "But don't be confused about Sheldon. He provides more than just a big shot. He's big and strong and nasty to play against. He makes an impact that way, too."

With their checks and their shots, Phaneuf and Souray play the game hard, yet make it look easy at the same time.

Contact Rocky Bonanno at rbonanno@nhl.com

Author: Rocky Bonanno | NHL.com Staff Writer

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