Maple Leafs pay tribute to former captain Dion Phaneuf

Courtesy of CBC Sports

Senators’ Dion Phaneuf gets mixture of boos, cheers in return to Toronto

Senators defenceman made his return to the Air Canada Centre Saturday for the first time since being traded by the Maple Leafs.

Ottawa Senators defenceman Dion Phaneuf, left, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Ben Smith battle for the puck during the first period Saturday night. Photo Credit TODD KOROL / TORONTO STAR
Ottawa Senators defenceman Dion Phaneuf, left, and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Ben Smith battle for the puck during the first period Saturday night.

Dion Phaneuf was eight hours from facing the Leafs for the first time since his trade to the Senators, and already there were boos.

Phaneuf stepped onto the ice for the Senators morning skate Saturday and he heard them. But there were giggles too. That’s because his teammates, anticipating the massive attention focused on his return to Toronto after six seasons as the Leafs’ captain, were the ones doing the booing.

“That was fun, they were making me feel comfortable, they were having fun with it and I was having fun too. It’s different being on this side (with Senators), and they (teammates) were giving it to me,” Phaneuf said, smiling himself.

And so the return of the former captain got off to a loose start, and continued in the dressing room, where Phaneuf’s scrum was so large, it was done in two waves — one for the TV media, and a second for the print media.

Phaneuf heard a smattering of boos Saturday night when he first touched the puck off the opening faceoff — and he almost gave up a breakaway when he fumbled the black disc and gave up a rush.

Moments later, though, fans stood on their feet and cheered for the former captain during a video tribute; Phaneuf clapped his hands in a gesture of respect to the fans, and seemed quite touched by the fans’ reaction.

Shortly after, Phaneuf shed the emotions from the tribute, picking a fight with Colin Greening, the Leafs’ toughest customer. That ended with Greening taking the former Toronto defenceman to the ice.

Before the game, everyone — from Leafs coach Mike Babcock to Leafs and Senators players — stressed the class with which Phaneuf handled himself in Toronto. The 30-year-old showed the same class when he dealt with his career in Toronto, which saw Toronto make the playoffs but once, in the lockout-shortened season in 2013.

Phaneuf, a polarizing figure with fans, was often thought to be under too much pressure as Leafs captain; critics felt his performance — he was an all-star once in Toronto, in 2012 — could have been improved upon if he did not have to shoulder the load of being captain in hockey’s biggest and most pressure-filled market.

“I didn’t find it a weight . . . there’s responsibility and a lot of other things, but when people say pressure, I was comfortable in the role,” Phaneuf said.

“I understand what you (media) are asking, but I didn’t find it a pressure . . . there were expectations and responsibility, but I enjoyed that.

“I enjoyed the change too, to be honest,” Phaneuf added.

“Karl (Senators captain Erik Karlsson) has great leadership, there’s a great leadership group in place here, so for me, I wanted to add to that, to help this team win games playing my game.”

Leafs coach Mike Babcock said there is no time frame for the Leafs to name a new captain.

As for his ex-teammates, some of them met up with Phaneuf Friday night for dinner, and enjoyed the chance to revisit some good times.

“He was the vocal part of our team, as a captain, that’s how it’s done. He was a leader on and off the ice,” Nazem Kadri said.

“I had the chance to see (Phaneuf) last night (Friday), and I’ve watched him play (with Ottawa), then after the game to see him in his Ottawa hat, that didn’t quite sit well with me.

“I told him I’m gonna try and dance him, he told me to keep my head up. Once the puck drops, he’s a competitor.”

Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner were also close to Phaneuf, and were part of a group of several Leafs who visited the captain’s summer home in Prince Edward Island during the off season — largely to get to know each other more.

“I like to have guys at my summer place,” said Phaneuf, who married actress Elisha Cuthbert at his summer home three years ago. “You get to know them as people, the young guys, having them away from the rink and getting to know them. I thought that was important, that we were good friends and not just at the rink. It was good to spend time together, do some training, go golfing, go to the beach. I enjoyed it and I’m sure some of them will still come down there and visit again.

“For me, it was important to make them feel comfortable. It doesn’t matter if a guy is 18 or 35, it was making them feel part of it. That was important to me.”

Phaneuf, though, has moved on gracefully and professionally from the Leafs captaincy. Babcock said Phaneuf’s likeness will go on the wall of the “weight room,” a room at the Leafs’ training complex at the Master Card Centre where all former captains are honoured with larger-than-life pictures on a wall for all to see.

“There was a lot of emotion on the day I was traded, to be honest with you. I made a lot of good friends here,” Phaneuf said. “Obviously with my role here as captain, I put a lot into doing the job, doing my role.

“When I was told, I had two flights, and I went to Detroit, I met up with the (Senators) in Detroit, and I was all in . . . I wanted to fit in, I wanted to help them down the stretch, and every game has lots of emotion in it now, it’s exciting.”

Courtesy of TheStar by Mark Zwolinski Sports reporter

Christina Vixx

I was born and raised in Toronto Canada. I love writing, poetry and music. I'm a contributor for SocialMediaMorning. Make sure you follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

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