CALGARY — Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf admits this game won’t be like the others.
He embraced the prospect of playing his former team, the Calgary Flames, for the first time since he was dealt to Toronto on Jan. 31.
“I had a real good time here, spent a lot of time here and played a lot of hockey, especially in this building,” Phaneuf said after Thursday’s pre-game skate. “It will be a special night.”
Phaneuf expected a mixed reception from Flames fans in the game. The 25-year-old from Edmonton generated offence from the back end with his powerful shot from the point, and delivered highlight-reel checks during his four-plus seasons in Calgary.
He was nominated for the Calder Trophy in his first year in the league and was a nominee for the Norris Trophy the following year. Phaneuf’s defensive lapses in his final season with the Flames were frustrating for fans, however.
“I have no hard feelings and I’d hope that they don’t,” he said. “I tried to play night in and night out. I’m excited. They’re going to have their own opinion. I’m sure there will be cheers and boos.”
The Flames sent Phaneuf, forward Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect Keith Aulie to the Leafs for forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and defender Ian White.
Phaneuf insisted he has no hard feelings about the trade, but at the time, the usually stoic player was emotional.
“It wasn’t easy. I had a lot of real good friends here,”’ he said. “Saying that, it’s the best thing that happened to me personally.
“Playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs is something very special. The history that our organization has, it’s been nothing but positives ever since I got to Toronto.”
Phaneuf missed Wednesday afternoon’s skate at the Scotiabank Saddledome to attend the funeral of his grandmother Roma in Prince Edward Island. He arrived in Calgary late Wednesday.
While he’d met some of his former teammates Thursday morning, he had not yet spoken to Flames general manger Darryl Sutter or head coach Brent Sutter.
“To see some of the guys, it was nice seeing Iggy (Jarome Iginla) this morning and have a couple of laughs,” Phaneuf said.
He brushed aside rumours of friction between him and ex-teammates while he played in Calgary.
“I think we’ve talked enough about the rumours to be completely honest, from my side and their side,” he said. “There was no truth to any of them. I had a very good relationship with all the guys. Rumours are rumours. Both sides have put them to rest.”