Nearing in on his first full year wearing a blue and white sweater, Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf is ready to return to his NHL roots as Toronto visits the Calgary Flames in their second game of a Western road swing.
The Flames were a struggling team looking for a desperate change in their core and it came in a deal with Toronto that earned them Ian White (now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes), Matt Stajan (who has recently returned from injury), Niklas Hagman (who has, at times, shown brilliant chemistry with fellow countryman Olli Jokinen), and Jamal Mayers (who cares about him).
“It’s part of the business,” Phaneuf said. “It’s a cliche â€” if Wayne Gretzky can get traded, anyone can get traded.”
Both clubs have nearly identical records since the blockbuster deal – Toronto (25-24-7), Calgary (26-27-5) – but a clash between the two 11 months after their agreement could see some sparks flying. Olli Jokinen feels the Flames are missing what Phaneuf brought to the table and had some positive words for the blueliner.
“He was a guy who never wanted to leave,” Jokinen said. “He wanted to stay here. He scored over 20 goals in his rookie year, a Norris Trophy candidate. I never had any problems with him, you know? He’s a good teammate who played hard and practiced hard. I would take him on my team any day.”
Unfortunately for Jokinen, and perhaps fortunately for Flames fans, he’s not the Flames general manager.
Phaneuf still holds respect for the Flames organization and is excited for a return visit to the Saddledome.
“I played a lot of hockey there,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the organization and the players I played with there. A lot of good friendships were made and I am looking forward to going back.”
The Flames do have the Leafs number recently at home, winning their last five straight host games against the boys in blue and white dating back to December of 2002. Plenty of Leafs characters have come and gone in that time frame and with both teams, arguably, on their slow rise back to respectable hockey, it could be one of the last games of the 2010 year that Leafs and Flames fans can look back on and appreciate.
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Micheal A. Aldred