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Phaneuf makes impression in Leafs' debut

by Jeremy Sandler
TORONTO -- An appreciative Air Canada Centre crowd did not quite know what to chant for Dion Phaneuf in his first game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A seeming 50/50 split between "Dion" and "Phaneuf" meant voices quieted rather quickly after the defenseman's first-period fight with New Jersey's Colin White in Toronto's 3-0 win over the Devils on Tuesday night.

According to Toronto coach Ron Wilson, it was the only lull associated with the 24-year-old, who arrived in Toronto from Calgary as the centerpiece of a seven-player deal on Sunday

"We could hear him talking in between periods in our coach's office, which is almost two rooms away and three doorways. We could hear him the whole time," Wilson said. "I'll pay him by the word, because he's full of energy in there."

Phaneuf's first game as a Leaf went just about perfectly for the defenseman as he helped his new team snap a six-game losing streak.

He hit Travis Zajac hard in the game's opening minutes, sparked his tussle with White by nearly laying out Devils star Zach Parise on his fourth shift and, while failing to register a point, still showcased the hard shot that has the Maple Leafs hoping he can improve their offensive production, particularly on the power play.

"Dion got a couple of good hits in early and just the fact that he's on the ice, the other team is looking before they ever attempt anything, so that's nice," Wilson said. "Any puck that gets in his wheelhouse he's going to pound it in the general direction of the net. He moves the puck really well. He's an excellent skater. It really wasn't anything I didn't know about him."

Phaneuf said he relishes being looked at as an example by teammates.

"I want to be known as a guy who'll lead on the ice whether it's practice or a game," he said. "I want to work as hard as I can to try and help this team by playing my game and that's working hard every shift."

Francois Beauchemin said his new defense partner's enthusiasm did wonders for Toronto in his first game.

"I think it got everybody fired up, every time you get a new guy in, especially a guy like Dion who plays a really physical game, he's aggressive, he's big there and he went after Parise there on the play and wasn't afraid to drop the gloves right after that," Beauchemin said. "It gets everybody going and it was a good start of the game."

According to forward Fredrik Sjostrom, who came with Phaneuf as part of the deal with Calgary, the Leafs and their fans can expect more of the same.

"He plays with heart and soul out there, tough, tough hockey," said Sjostrom, who had an assist in his Leafs debut. "You're going to see that every night from him."

Jeremy Sandler covers sports for the National Post newspaper in Toronto

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