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Phaneuf Brings Presence To Leafs Blueline

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs


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It’s a word absent from the Maple Leafs dictionary for years and now it’s back. From here until who knows when, fear wears 3.

Dion Phaneuf walked into the Leafs dressing room at their Master Card Centre, Tuesday, strode over to the stereo and hit the volume.

No one said a word.

“He’s got a swagger about him that we will encourage and that will rub off on the other guys,” said coach Ron Wilson. He talks on the ice during practice.  He is an assertive personality and that has been lacking here.”

“He’s a vocal kid, very confident,” said Wayne Primeau, a teammate in Calgary.

Phaneuf figures to be the club’s best open ice hitter since Wendel Clark. He is a menace.

Said Wilson: “The thing I like is that New Jersey comes in tomorrow and the first thing they are going to say is ‘anybody with your head down, you had better get it up because you are going to get leveled.’ “

“Every night Dion lays one or two or three guys out. I’m sure he gets burned, but at the same time, he hits and he hits hard.”

Long plagued by defenders willing to lay their bodies in front of shots, the Maple Leafs now have a player who will keep defenders on their feet.

And a Leaf team noticeably short on bite now has a gunner to revive a wilted power play, a 27-minute a night player who can play both special teams and make a game against the Leafs as fun as disarming a pipe bomb.

“I’m going to play my game,” Phaneuf said. “I’m not going to try to do anything out of the ordinary. I’m going to do what I do game in and game out.”

There is, of course, reams of speculation on why the Flames would ship away a player with Phaneuf’s upside. Just 24, Phaneuf recognizes that his numbers have been dipping. Phaneuf scored 20 goals as a rookie, then 17 and 17 before falling to 11 last year and 10 this year.

“My numbers might not be where I want them to be,” he said, “but I’m excited about a fresh start and playing for a great organization that has a lot of history.”

Fredrik Sjostrom, who came over from the Flames along with Phaneuf scoffed at stories that said Phaneuf’s hard-headed style was not appreciated in Calgary.

“I would totally disagree on that. He was well-liked in Calgary. He’s a great guy. I don’t know where that rumoUr came from.  He fit in great in Calgary and he will fit in great here.”

Phaneuf will definitely be on the ice Tuesday when the New Jersey Devils visit but Wilson said he has not decided whether he would go with newly-acquired goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Giguere won the Conn Smythe trophy in a losing cause in 1993 but his fortunes have dipped dramatically of late. The decision by Anaheim Ducks management to sign Jonas Hiller to a long-term deal meant the end of Giguere’s tenure with the Ducks.  But his professional tailspin mirrored profound events in his off-ice life where one of his children was very ill.

“There were a lot of things that happened last year in my personal life and in my professional life too,” he said.  “There was just a lot of pressure. Jonas found a way to step up his game and push me aside and kudos to him. It’s not an easy thing to do. Add on top of that the fact I wasn’t playing well when I was playing. A lot of things happened and that’s why I am standing in front of you today.

“Hopefully, I can use this move for a new beginning.”

Giguere admits the presence OF Ducks alumni  Francois Allaire (Toronto’s goaltender consultant)  and GM Brian Burke boosted his opinion of playing out of Air Canada Centre.

He tempered the idea that he could help incumbent goalie Jonas Gustavsson, a talented netminder who has sometimes appeared overmatched in his first NHL campaign.

“My job is not to coach Jonas. He already has a head coach, a goaltending coach and a bunch of assistant coaches. I’m going to try to lead by example, try to work hard, try to be a good teammate to him.”

It’s all fine according to Gustavsson.

“Right now is the perfect set-up, a great goalie coach who works with two goalies who want to play his style. I think we are going to get along really well. When I’m not playing I know I am going to try to push him and I know he’s going to do the same for me.”

“Jiggy will get the bulk of the work and we’ll spot Jonas hopefully once a week,” Wilson said. “Jonas will have someone who can help mentor him and play the same style as our goalie coach wants to play.”
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