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Toronto Maple Leafs and captain Dion Phaneuf say they plan to focus on defence after their recent slump. FILE PHOTO: REUTERS/Mike Cassese

Mike Cassese/Reuters

Dion Phaneuf is headed back to the all-star game.

The Toronto Maple Leafs captain was one of six players, and the only member of the Leafs, voted in by the fans for the game, which will be played at the end of the month in January.

It's been four years since Phaneuf was an all-star, and he said at Thursday's morning skate, he's honoured to be going back.

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"I definitely couldn't have got there without my teammates," Phaneuf said. "And with the fans voting. We've got great support here in Toronto, we've got unbelievable fans and I have to thank the fans for voting me in.

"It's an honour to be part of the all-star game and to start is something that I'm very thankful for."

Currently sixth among NHL defencemen in scoring and on pace for 55 points, Phaneuf is having one of the best years of his career after several down seasons. He is also 11th in the NHL in minutes played and the Leafs top player in terms of puck possession when he's on the ice.

Always known as an offence-first blueliner with the ability to make a big hit, Phaneuf has also been successfully dialled back by the Leafs coaching staff to the point where he now hits and shoots less often, making him less of a liability in his own end.

Leafs coach Ron Wilson called the vote "well deserved."

"Good for Dion, he deserves it," Wilson said.

"I think it's great - I think he's been terrific," Leafs GM Brian Burke added.

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Two Leafs narrowly missed out on being voted in as starters, as Phil Kessel and James Reimer both finished one spot away from receiving enough votes. Kessel had been leading the vote throughout much of the proceedings, but three Ottawa Senators forwards bumped him out on the final week.

"The Senators put on a big push for voting and good for them," Burke said. "I'd expect our fans to do the same thing if we host a game some day."

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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