Phaneuf hopes to dominate in fourth season

Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008

By Lucas Aykroyd

Is this the year that Dion Phaneuf wins his first Norris Trophy? Since debuting with the Calgary Flames in 2005-06, the 23-year-old famed for his bodychecks has been touted as the most likely young candidate to end Nicklas Lidstrom’s reign as the NHL’s best defenceman, and he was nominated for the award for the first time in 2008.

Phaneuf has increased his offensive production in each of his three NHL seasons, going from 49 to 50 to 60 points. However, playing alongside a hard-rock shutdown defenceman in Robyn Regehr, Phaneuf doesn’t focus on trophies or points when setting goals for the season to come.

“I just want to keep improving,” Phaneuf told Eishockey News after a 6-1 pre-season loss to the Vancouver Canucks on October 1. “I want to keep learning from the older guys we have in here and keep taking steps forward. I can be better in the defensive zone.”

Flames head coach Mike Keenan is more effusive in his praise, comparing Phaneuf’s style to that of two Hall-of-Famers. “I think he’s somewhere between Scott Stevens and Larry Robinson, in that Larry did play on the power play and was a puck-moving defenseman, and Dion has that skill set,” Keenan said. “Scott played on the power play, but he was very much a defending defenceman who would always play against the top competitors on the opposing team. Dion has that portion of his game, too.”

Phaneuf doesn’t seek out the spotlight, and he’s more than willing to give credit to his teammates. The Flames will have a revamped look this year after parting ways with highly skilled but soft forwards Kristian Huselius and Alex Tanguay and acquiring fresh Canadian grit and talent in former Los Angeles Kings ace Mike Cammalleri and troubled power forward Todd Bertuzzi.

“Bertuzzi and Cammalleri were two big acquisitions, but it doesn’t stop there,” said Phaneuf. “Bringing in Rene Bourque, Curtis Glencross, and Andre Roy will also help us a lot. We’re glad to have them in our room.”

Good team chemistry is starting to build already, based on hard work and intensity.

“Overall, I think we’ve come together really well, considering a lot of new guys have come into the room.” said Phaneuf. “I think our pre-season has had a lot of positives. You’ve got to take those and move forward.”

One of Calgary’s pre-season highlights has been strong penalty-killing. In fact, when Calgary allowed a Pavol Demitra power play goal in its 6-1 loss to Vancouver, it was the first time the PK had failed after 32 straight kills in five previous exhibition games.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, plus the willingness of our forwards to block shots,” Phaneuf said. “We’ve been applying pressure up the ice. Our forwards have been outworking other teams’ power plays, that’s for sure.”

Phaneuf’s own work ethic was briefly called into question back in May when he declined to join Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship in Halifax and Quebec City. While the Canadians lost to Russia in the gold medal game, Phaneuf was photographed frolicking with Hollywood starlet Elisha Cuthbert on a Hawaii beach. However, he’s not making any apologies for skipping the tournament.

“I wasn’t healthy enough to play,” said Phaneuf, who’s expected to represent Canada at the 2010 Olympics. “That’s the bottom line. With the way I was feeling, I couldn’t perform at the level I wanted.”

Meanwhile, he’s enjoying a little newfound notoriety as the cover boy for the NHL 09 video game by EA Sports: “It’s pretty cool. It’s an honor, and it’s been exciting. I’ve played the game a few times, and I’m not too bad.”

Now his challenge is to get imprinted on the Norris Trophy and the Stanley Cup, not necessarily in that order. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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