If anyone knows “difficult” people, it’s former NHL coach “Iron” Mike Keenan. After all, he sees one every time he looks in the mirror.
The fiery coach – known for brow beating a considerable amount of players, though it’s unclear that he always left as good an impression as he did on Jeremy Roenick with his rants – was last fired from the Calgary Flames after the 2008-09 season. During his last two seasons behind an NHL bench, he surely had the opportunity to get to know then-face of the Flames franchise, Dion Phaneuf.
TSN’s Darren Dreger spoke with Keenan about the Flames-turned-Maple Leafs defenseman, who will return to Calgary as the Toronto captain tonight.
Keenan admitted that Phaneuf’s “overly confident, if not cocky” behavior rubbed some Flames veterans the wrong way. If you need any evidence of that feeling, just look at the nickname he gave him: “Neon Dion.” Yup, when people compare you to a former NFL cornerback whose theatrics and rampant egotism overshadowed his elite coverage skills, it’s probably a sign that the target of such comparisons has a substantial ego.
There were arguments, and some wanted Keenan to tighten the reigns and discipline Phaneuf, but the former coach enjoyed Phaneuf’s sometimes, combative nature and verbal approach and was willing to live with his mistakes as he developed.
Keenan compliments the 25 year old defenceman for always showing drive and arriving at the rink everyday, fired up, and ready to play.
At times there was friction in Calgary’s dressing room, and perhaps a sense of jealousy over the 6 year, $39 million dollar extension Phaneuf signed with the Flames in 2008.
However, Keenan says he very much enjoyed coaching Phaneuf and says he would have him on any team he’s associated with in the future; adding former NHL stars such as Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, or Ed Belfour, all had their issues, but all were thoroughbreds Keenan found very coachable.
Now, it’s tough to argue with one sentiment floating around Twitter and other sections of the hockey world: perhaps Keenan is just trying to get his name back out there after watching the last two seasons from afar?
That being said, it’s not that tough to believe that Phaneuf’s sense of self worth might have inflated along with his notoriety and wealth. There were some thoughts that his combination of brutal hits and a scorching slap shot might allow him to become the next Chris Pronger, but defensive lapses and other shortcomings have transformed his contract into one of the league’s worst deals.
So far, it seems like “Neon Dion” is burning out like an old neon light. Unfortunately, that just means his playing career parallels Keenan’s coaching days.