It was shortly after noon on game day that Dion Phaneuf finally addressed all the issues - about his return to Calgary for the first time since the big trade, about his alleged difficulties with his ex-Flames' teammates and about the past 48 hours, when he lost his grandmother after a long illness.
Phaneuf was considerably more chipper than in his occasionally sourpuss days with the Flames, part of the process of becoming more media friendly in the aftermath of his appointment as the Toronto Maple Leafs' captain.
Phaneuf spent part of the morning chatting with his Flames' counterpart, Jarome Iginla, and some of the team's staff, but not with either coach Brent Sutter or general manager Darryl Sutter, with whom he has had the longest relationships, dating back to junior hockey days in Red Deer.
Phaneuf talked about all the "great friends that he made" in the 378 games he played for Calgary between 2005 and 2010 and said all the rumours about discord and issues within the team were false.
"Rumours are rumours," he said. "Both sides have put them to rest."
Phaneuf was aware that on Wednesday, teammate Kris Versteeg had donned a mask of him for the start of Leaf practice, an homage of sorts to his absence amid all the media frenzy. Phaneuf missed practice after flying to Calgary from his grandmother's funeral in Prince Edward Island. Phaneuf hadn't seen the video clip as of today, but had had a photo of it texted to his phone by teammates.
"It was funny," he said, "and I'm glad they had a good time. We've got a great group, a young group, a real fun group that has a lot of fun with the game. To see Steeger, he's a funny guy and I'm glad they had some fun with it."
Phaneuf wasn't sure what to expect from the crowd at the Scotiabank Saddledome tonight. This will be his first game back since the January trade that saw him land with the Leafs along with Keith Aulie and Freddie Sjostorm. Only Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan remain from the four players that came Calgary's way in the deal. Coach Brent Sutter confirmed that Stajan would return to the lineup tonight after a two-game exile to the press box, but wouldn't say who would come out in his place.
Phaneuf said he had "no idea" what sort of reception he'd get from the crowd.
"I have no hard feelings and I hope that they don't," he said. "I tried to play hard night in and night out here. I'm excited. They're going to have their own opinions. I'm sure there'll be cheers and boos."
Calgary is 14th in the West and the Maple Leafs 11th in the NHL's comparatively weak Eastern Conference. Playoffs seem like a long shot for both teams, even though the season is barely a third over.
"It is a big game for both teams," said Phaneuf, "and they're probably saying the same thing over there. When the puck drops, it doesn't matter if they're your best friend or not, you have to play to win. If you ask any guy over there, they're not going to let up on me, I'm sure of that.
"There are no hard feelings, no negatives .... 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."Report Typo/Error