CALGARY – Dion Phaneuf’s much anticipated return to Calgary didn’t live up to the hype.
Considering the emotional week it’s been for the Toronto Maple Leafs captain, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Phaneuf had a relatively quiet night Thursday as his new team dropped a 5-2 decision to the Flames. The 25-year-old spent Wednesday in P.E.I. attending his grandmother’s funeral before flying to Calgary to meet up with his teammates.
“It’s not ideal to have to attend a funeral. It wasn’t a great day yesterday, by any means,” said Phaneuf. “It’s tough, it’s emotional to go to those things. But it was a good celebration of her life and I’m glad I got to it and I have no regrets of going whatsoever.”
Known for his thunderous hits, sizzling slapshots, and ornery side, there were few glimpses of that Thursday, but his coach wasn’t complaining.
“It was a very tough week for him, emotionally more than anything,” Ron Wilson said. “Coming back to Alberta is hard enough but with his grandmother passing, that’s not a good week at all.
“I thought he did fine given the circumstances.”
Phaneuf’s first hit didn’t come until the third period and only three of his eight attempted shots found the net. He gave Flames rookie Mikael Backlund a facewash in the first period, and a shoved Jarome Iginla in the second.
“I said this morning, it’s not about me against the Calgary Flames,” said Phaneuf. “Our team got beat. We didn’t play near or even close to where we had to.”
Calgary traded the defenceman to Toronto in a multi-player deal Jan. 31 and Phaneuf’s reception Thursday reflected his four-plus seasons in Calgary.
He was nominated for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in his first season and Norris Trophy as the top defenceman in his second.
Phaneuf was booed when he touched the puck in his opening shifts, but there were enough fans from both teams to dilute the din with cheers and whistles.
“They’re passionate fans here. I played here, I know they’re passionate. It’s a lively building. They have all the right in the world to boo,” said Phaneuf, who finished the night a plus-1 in 22:29 of ice-time with two hits. “I feel when I was here, I played hard every night, night in and night out.
“There were a lot of nights, if not all of them, they were cheering for me. I have no hard feelings about that at all, it’s nothing personal.”
At the end of lengthy shift in the second it looked like the travel had caught up with Phaneuf. He had Olli Jokinen race around him for a dangerous scoring chance and before he could get off the ice, the Flames nearly took advantage of the noticeably exhausted defenceman again.
“It’s a difficult situation when you lose a loved one. It takes a lot of energy out of you and it’s tough to play through that,” said Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
“I can pretty much guarantee that if it wasn’t a game here in Calgary, maybe he wouldn’t have been here tonight,” Giguere added. “But he’s a proud competitor. He’s proud of what he’s done here in Calgary and he’s got great memories of this organization and this city and there’s nothing in the world that could have prevented him from playing this game.”