The Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames will face off on Thursday night at the Dome.
You would think a game between the 22nd and 26th ranked team in the league wouldn’t exactly be a must see affair, but this upcoming tilt between two cellar dwellers has a little more oomph than your run of the mill basement clash.
Did I mention Dion Phaneuf will be making his much anticipated return to where it all began? Well he is, and it’s become quite a big deal.
Drafted 9th overall by the Flames in 2003, Dion was the most anticipated Flames prospect since the hay day of the late 80’s. This wasn’t Rico Fata, or Daniel Tkaczuk, or even Chris Dingman, this was a player who played for Team Canada at the World Juniors and dominated and a player who the coach/GM at the time knew very very well. Well enough to hug on draft day, and Darryl is not a hugger.
He was supposed to be the saviour, the Norris trophy worthy defenceman that the Flames could build around for years to come. It started out great. Dion racked up 20 goals and 29 assists in his rookie season while garnering Calder trophy accolades. If it hadn’t been for guys named Crosby and Ovechkin, he might have had a chance.
Dion’s next two seasons only increased his stature, putting up point totals of 50 and 60 respectively. Everything seemed to be going great.
In the 2008-09 season, his point totals dropped, as did his goal totals, while he also finished with a minus 11 rating.
Fast forward to June 27th, 2009. The Flames acquired Jay Bouwmeester from the Florida Panthers. A day later they signed him to a 5 year $33.4 million contract.
Little did we know that this would signal the beginning of the end of Dion Phaneuf in Calgary.
Just when he thought he would be the ‘MAN’ on the Flames blue line, management goes out and acquires the most revered rear guard on the market. This move did not sit well with the caveman, err Dion.
The 2009-10 season was rumour filled from the outset. From a situation involving Iginla and Dion scrapping in the locker room, to Dion having an affair with one of the Flames wives, to the tumultuous relationship between Regehr and Phaneuf, who by the way, were defence partners at the time.
January of 2010 and the Flames lose 11 of 12 games prompting GM Darryl Sutter to find the envelope that reads “USE ONLY IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.”
Darryl subsequently traded Dion, Freddy Sjostrom, and prospect Keith Aulie to the Leafs for Hagman, Stajan, Jamal Mayers and Ian White.
Panic! At the dome.
The following day, the Flames would trade Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the Rangers for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins, prompting one of the biggest mid-season overhauls in the team’s history in a desperate effort to creep into the playoffs.
We all know how that ended. EPIC FAIL.
So Dion leaves Calgary, in tears surprisingly, to go to the Big Smoke. In the summer, he is named team captain and gets his wish. He becomes ‘THE GUY’ in ‘THE CITY.’ He is in the spotlight he so desperately craved. He has ‘HIS TEAM,’ which is something that might have not happened in Calgary with the likes of Iginla, Regehr, and now Bouwmeester in the fold.
I’ve seen polls on the internet asking whether or not Flames fans should boo Dion when he hits the ice. Truth be told, and polls aside, I don’t think you will be hearing many cheers for #3. I expect a cataclysmic amount of boos to rain down from the rafters. It doesn’t matter if he said he didn’t want to leave or not. Fans don’t care. He is a former Flame and he is not Nieuwendyk, not Fleury, not Gilmour, not Roberts, not Vernon, not even Joey Mullen. He didn’t help the Flames win anything. He was disliked enough while he was here, by enough of the population, that once he puts on the Blue and White, he becomes public enemy #1. He will be booed, you can guarantee it.
Game wise, expect Dion to come out guns a blazing. He will be looking to run someone through the boards, ice, bench, or penalty box, the first chance he gets. He would love nothing more than to score the winning goal and decapitate Iginla or some other Flame in the process.
What about a Phaneuf vs. Iggy fight on the ice? Words can’t describe how epic that would be.
Add in the fact that the Dome will most likely be filled with a ton of Leafs fans, and you have one hostile, exciting, fun filled atmosphere.
The Flames are unbeaten in regulation in two games (ok, I’m stretching) and the Leafs are on a two game winning streak and winners of four of their last six games. Its two teams that desperately need to string wins together.
For all the boring Flames games that have been played out this year, at least this game will be worth watching.
It’s not like Favre coming back into Lambeau, not even close, but it’s the closest thing to excitement surrounding the Flames this season. The hype alone is more exciting than most games have been.
Dion vs. The Flames. Let's get ready to Rrrrrrrrrrrrumble!!!!!!!!