Dion’s Day


It’s not every day the Maple Leafs name a new captain. In fact, it’s not every decade. Sundin was named in 1997, 13 years prior to the Leafs appointment of Phaneuf. And with the announcement being made in front of a room of roughly 100 media personnel, the message was relayed to the world using every different angle imaginable.

Instead of weighing the pros and cons, balancing the collective good choices of Burke and Wilson against the bad, MLHS is going to bring you into the event. Thousands of writers have provided their opinion but little time has been spent enabling the reader to form their own. So please, if you will, grab your notepad and follow us past the security and the media media check-in, and into the press conference that will see Dion Phaneuf named the 18th captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Brian Burke and his staff selected MLSE’s latest edition to the empire, Real Sports Bar & Grill, as the venue to host the late spring mini-media convention. Not open to the public until the following Monday, the press conference will serve as the Bar’s first event. As you pass through the two large glass doors of the main entrance, you can not help but be overcome by a feeling of luxury. The dimly lit bar is flooded with plasma televisions, all showing in harmony a slide-show of the captains of Leafs past.

After signing in at what will later be the hostess station, the sercurity officer gestures to continue deeper into Real Sports. Light refreshments are served including an abundance of bottled water, which was snatched up quickly as a combination of the day’s high temperature and collared shirts were suffocating many of the guests.

If the rows of seats and dozens of television cameras didn’t give away where the presentation would be held, the enormous wall mounted television would. As everyone entered, they remark at the magnitude of this jumbo-tron sized device rumoured to be only a few feet smaller than the one displayed outdoors in Maple Leafs square. Eight other smaller televisions and a trade-floor style ticker surround the bar’s centre piece. Below the main tv a stage has been set. Lined up on display to the stage’s right are five different Leafs sweaters, all from different eras and all belonging to former captains. The small plaques in front them tell the story of the man that once donned the blue or white garment.

Looking around, the group is filled with recognizeable faces: CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet’s Tony Ambrogio, the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox, am640’s Jonas Siegel. All mingling with each other and the many more in attendance. A few remarks can be heard about the magnitude of Real Sports, and several joke about the crowds the Leafs are able to draw even after the season has ended. And it’s true, the room is filling up quickly and it’s doubtful whether there are enough seats.

Cliff Fletcher is the first member of the Leafs brass to meander into the crowd, saying soft hellos as he moves towards his seat in the front row. Kessel, Bozak and Schenn are next. Luke looks quite dapper while the appearance of Phil and Tyler suggests they may have just rolled out of bed and thrown on the first white shirt in site. Though there have been reports that Bozak has already gained substantial weight during his off-season training, it isn’t all that apparent as he makes a b-line through the crowd to his chair. Whispers about the attendance of Luke’s younger brother Brayden, currently property of the Los Angeles Kings, are heard as the message is passed from one person to another. Brayden stands at the back dressed in a ball cap and a t-shirt as Luke sits in his chair to the left of the stage.

As Maple Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke enters the room, the conversations quickly dissolve and all use it as a cue to find their place. In a perfect vantage point, we are seated in the second row behind Leafs Assistant GM and Marlies GM Dave Nonis, and sandwiched between Nike Training representative Steve Glynn and popular columnist Damien Cox. Burke throws a quick nod to acknowledge your presence, and then finds his chair on stage.

As the room falls silent the only voice to be heard is that of head coach Ron Wilson. Ron laughs over a story about his convertible as he slowly passes the front row and makes his way to the stage. When everyone is seated, including both Brian and Ron, Phaneuf appears. Dressed classy but simple, Dion is wearing a gray suit, white shirt and shiny black shoes. Really shiny black shoes. He perches himself in his place on stage and his shoes perfectly reflect the overhead lights directly into the eyes of the person seated behind Nonis and between Glynn and Cox. It is like your best friend has taken the camping flashlight and directed it right into your eye.

Now comes the part that the whole world saw. After a quick introduction by Joe Bowen, Burke addresses the group and confirms that a captain will be named. Burke reaffirms that this is the coaches decision but stresses his full support of Wilson’s choice. When Wilson takes to the podium he gives credit to Burke for the remarkable trade to bring Dion to the team. This is the first time Phaneuf’s name is used. As he remains seated, Dion, for possibly the first time since his draft, seems nervous. This is not the “I don’t know if I am ready” type of uncertainty that is found in his eyes, but rather an acceptance of the weight this role holds.

The 25 year old shows no swagger, in the sense that was used freely by CBC during the playoffs. There is no sense of entitlement, but rather a deep reverence for the Leaf, the legacy and the responsibility of being named captain. Dion looks to Ron as his coach happily makes it official. Phaneuf will captain the Leafs. Like many important moments in life, this one passes as quickly as it came. Wilson presents Phaneuf with the Leafs latest edition of their sweater, this one with a number 3 on the sleeve and a C on the front. There is a quick photo-op and Phaneuf steps to the podium.

Dion, a man who always seems so strong and focussed when shown flattening opponents in his hockey armour, presents himself to the crowd timidly. Perhaps being surrounded by great Leafs captains of the past – Armstrong, Sittler and Clark – shook his concentration. He unfolds a piece of paper from his pocket, a speech he had prepared ahead of time.

He thanks the fans first. This is of utmost importance in a city mad over their home team, and something he will likely keep in mind in future interviews. Dion voices his appreciation to Burke and Wilson, his three teammates in attendance, the three former captains on stage and finally the media. At a steady pace, Dion moves through his speech. He says all the right things; mentioning the importance he puts on winning and to leading both on and off the ice. Phaneuf states, producing probably the most important nugget from this whole ceremony, that he will captain his team by doing exactly what he has been doing all along. He thanks the fans one last time and takes his seat back between his coach and general manager.

Joe Bowen then takes to the stage one final time. The time he spends interviewing Armstrong, Sittler and Clark is likely a welcomed break by all in attendance, providing a moment to gather thoughts and prepare questions. When Bones dismisses the crowd he mistakenly says “media scums” instead of “media scrums” drawing chuckles from the crowd and softening the tone momentarily before the chaos that was about to ensue.

Imagine 100 chickens pecking at only a few pieces of corn, that is a media scrum. Phaneuf stays near the stage’s left side while Burke floats to the right and comes to rest near the booth holding the Maple Leafs online media representatives. Ron Wilson is the only one who stands in front of the blue media wall. Reporters swarm the three and are loaded with every question from Phaneuf to first round picks, and captaincy to Kaberle. Cameramen are generally closest, with single arms holding digital recording sticks filling up the the rest of the interview victim’s view. Those who showed up armed only with a note pad stand toward the back of the huddle trying to catch any stray quotes.

When the cameras turn on, the predictable Burkian short replies begin. “A big part of this deal was we thought he was captain material,” said Burke when questioned about giving Phaneuf the C with only a few months experience as a Leaf. When asked about the team’s other possible leaders, Burke quickly retorts with “You don’t need a letter to lead.” And when Tony Ambrogio tries to influence the conversation in a direction more towards Kaberle, Burke snaps “This is Dion’s day.”

Ron Wilson was slightly more open to alternate conversation. Granted he answered his fair share of Phaneuf queries, Wilson also fielded questions in regards to the winning of the Stanley Cup and the two competitors involved. He admits the Hawks were his pick to win it all, but the Flyers should be given more credit than they were. It is in a dwindling scrum around Ron where the first question about the new-look team sweaters was heard. Ron responds simply, they “respect our tradition.”

Phaneuf’s approach to the media was different than that of his head coach or general manager. Instead of allowing himself to be swarmed by myriads of the cities finest reporters, he opts to walk and speak with many individually. His words are simple, and echo that of his previous address. He chooses to remind the media of his dedication to winning, and desire to lead through his strong work ethic. He reiterates his confidence in his team and possible success of the coming season. Dion exudes a personality much like that of former captain Wendel Clark, a tendency to do his speaking in the dressing room instead of with the media.

Clark was available for interviews as well, along with the other present and past Leafs. But with the majority of the attention going to the teams leadership trio, Clark and company were among the first to leave. Phaneuf and Wilson were next, leaving about ten minutes later, but Burke stayed and spoke off-the-record with members of the media until there were only a handful left.

All of the cameras that had lined the back of the room had now been removed. LeafTv’s Paul and Andi were the only two still taping. The Maple Leafs’ Mike Ulmer had long left but Jonas Siegal from am640 was still busy at work, alone in a booth transcribing recorded quotes. A single server was offering the last of the blue-and-white cupcakes to the remaining guests. It was over.

The plates of refreshments and bottled drinks had been well picked through. Only a single security guard remains at the door to keep any from coming in, but allowing media remnants to exit.

Leaving through the two large glass doors that will later serve as the entrance to this bar and grill, there is only a single thought at the forefront of the mind. All the questions have been answered and the notebook is full, but the feeling that something great has happened can not be shook.

The Maple Leafs have just named their captain, an announcement that has only been made 17 times over the team’s 83 year history. How does that make you feel?