Commentary

Phaneuf talks coaches, contracts and Canadian rivalries

Updated: January 28, 2008, 5:38 PM ET
By David Amber | Special to ESPN.com

Keep your head up, or you might meet Dion Phaneuf the hard way.

The 22-year old All-Star is geared up for a big game in Atlanta, where his bullet-like shot was on display. In this week's Facing Off, the league's hardest hitter tells us what it's like playing for his hometown's archrival, why he may be the most feared player in the game and who he thinks is the team to beat this season in the NHL.

Dion Phaneuf-- Quick Facts

• He was selected in the first round (ninth overall) by the Calgary Flames in the 2003 NHL draft.

• Phaneuf won gold medals for Canada at the 2005 World Junior Championship and the 2007 World Championships.

• In 2006, he became just the third rookie defenseman in NHL history to score 20 goals in a season (joining Barry Beck and Brian Leetch).

• He collected five assists on Dec. 13, 2007 against Tampa Bay. It was just the fourth time in the past nine NHL seasons that a defenseman has done that.

Question from David Amber: You grew up in Edmonton and were a huge Oilers fan. Then, you get drafted by their rivals from Calgary. What was that moment like for you?

Answer from Dion Phaneuf: I was just extremely excited to be drafted. As soon as I was drafted, my favorite team definitely changed [laughs]. My family was there and they were so happy I was chosen by a Canadian team right down the road from where I grew up and where I played junior in Red Deer, Alberta.

Q: When it's the Oilers vs. the Flames, who are your friends and family in Edmonton cheering for?

A: [Laughs] I converted most of them. It took some time, but I did. It is such a great rivalry. I love going to play in Edmonton; the crowd is always really into it. It's nice to have friends and family there, too.

Q: As a rookie, you led all NHL defensemen with 285 hits. How did you have the confidence then to be such a physical presence on the ice?

A: It's a big part of my game. I have to play that physical style to be effective. I don't think that's a secret to anyone. It's something I had to do even in my first year. That's the style of game that I play.

Q: Last season on our ESPN.com NHL player survey, you were picked as the hardest hitter in the league by 43 percent of the players that responded. How does that fear factor help your game?

A: Definitely, I think guys are aware when I'm on the ice against them. So, that helps because they have to take an extra look. I guess it's an advantage for me.

Q: Some hockey pundits think the rules have been changed to the point that hitting has decreased. If you were the NHL commissioner, what rules, if any, would you change?

A: I think I would change the instigator rule. But overall, I think they have done a great job with the rules and enforcing them. They have taken the stick work out of the game. They've made it more difficult for guys to be dirty. They haven't taken the physical side out of the game and I don't think they ever will. It's a big part of the game.

Q: You are sixth in the league in minutes per game. At this point in the season, describe the physical state of your body?

A: I feel good. [Coach Mike Keenan] knows how to balance the work-to-rest ratio. When there's time for days off to rest, he always gives you that time to relax. He always preaches that to us -- to get rest, eat well and stay hydrated. That's the biggest thing -- you have to take care of your body during the season.

Q: What do you think when you look at a guy like Chris Chelios, who, at age 45, is twice your age and is still able to log the minutes he does?

[+] EnlargeDion Phaneuf
Andy Devlin/NHLI/Getty ImagesDion Phaneuf played in his second straight All-Star Game this past weekend in Atlanta.

A: He's in phenomenal shape and is a great athlete. He just keeps doing it year after year; it's quite something to watch him play.

Q:m Your game is often compared to Scott Stevens, a player you grew up watching. What did you learn from him?

A: As I was growing up, I watched him, and he was always such a fierce competitor. You look at his record, I think he missed the playoffs only once in his career. He was just always a guy who was noticed on the ice for his play. He was a physical guy and feared on the ice. As I got older, I tried to play like him, that's for sure.

Q: What is it like to be an NHL star in a hockey-mad city like Calgary?

A: I'm very fortunate to play where I do. I think we have some of the best fans in the league. The place is packed every night and they're really loud and energetic. To have that support, we're very fortunate.

Q: What is the most special part of being selected to the All-Star Game?

A: Getting selected last year for my first game was very special. You grow up watching the All-Star Game and dreaming of one day being there. For me to get that chance was awesome; it was quite an honor. To be able to play with some of the older guys and dress with them and talk to them was amazing. The whole experience is sort of surreal. The league does a great job for the event.

Q: What kind of relationship do you have with Keenan?

A: I have a good relationship with him. I've enjoyed playing with him. He's a fair guy. He expects you to work hard and give an honest effort every night, and that's all he asks for.

Q: Keenan has a reputation of being extremely tough on players. What is it like after a game when you've had a bad giveaway or missed a defensive assignment?

A: The same as any coach; he's not going to be too happy with you [laughs].

Q: Mike Richards just signed a 12-year $69-million deal with Philadelphia. You will become a restricted free agent on July 1. What dialogue have you had with the Flames about signing a contract extension?

A: Can't comment on that. We've haven't been talking yet. As far as the deal Mike signed, I think it's a great deal. Some guys are going to the longer-term deal, some guys prefer a shorter deal. It's really up to the player and the team to work it out, and hopefully both sides can be happy.

Q: We've past the midway point of the season. Who do you think is the team to beat right now?

A: I think Detroit; they're in first and they're a really skilled group. So, they are definitely the best team in the West right now.

ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.