Former teammates expect cheers in Phaneuf’s return to Toronto

Mike Babcock emphasized and then emphasized again how much he admired and liked the character and leadership of Dion Phaneuf when he was the Maple Leafs captain and why he feels the fans owe him gratitude for his tenure.

TORONTO — Dion Phaneuf‘s former Maple Leafs teammates haven’t quite adjusted to seeing their former captain in red and black of the Ottawa Senators.

"It just doesn’t sit too well with me yet," Nazem Kadri said. "But that’s just how the game goes."

The Leafs will see him up close in those colours Saturday night when Phaneuf plays his first game back in Toronto, his first game against the team he played with for six seasons.

The 30-year-old was dealt to the nation’s capital early last month.

"There’s mixed emotions," Phaneuf said of returning to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday morning, this time in the visitors dressing room. "But my main thing is I’ve got to focus on playing a game."

Former teammates, some of whom met Phaneuf for dinner on Friday evening, weren’t sure what kind of reception he’d receive from the local crowd, though all believed it should be positive.

The Leafs planned to acknowledge Phaneuf with a video tribute during a TV timeout.

"I think Dion had a great career here in Toronto," Morgan Rielly said. "He always treated the fans with respect, he was active within the community and the people of Toronto know hockey, they know that he was a good person. I’m personally expecting cheers, but you never know."

"It should be outstanding," Leafs coach Mike Babcock added of the reception.

His new Senators teammates ribbed him when he first took to the ice on Saturday morning, jeering the former Leafs captain with good-hearted boos.

Describing himself as very emotional when he was dealt to the Senators on Feb. 9 for a package that included players, a draft pick and prospect, Phaneuf says he’s found a receptive home with a former foe.

The trade came more than six years after he was first dealt to the Leafs in a thunderous deal orchestrated by the team’s former president and general manager Brian Burke.

"Obviously I’ll have time to sit back and reflect on my time (in Toronto), but I enjoyed every minute of it," Phaneuf said of his 423-game tenure with the Leafs. "It’s a great hockey city. There’s passionate fans. There’s real good ownership and they’ve put in a program in place with winners right from the top down. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the organization. They treated me very well in my time here.

"But that chapter is over now. And now I’m the enemy. I’m an Ottawa Senator and I’m really happy about it."

Phaneuf met Kadri, among other teammates, for dinner Friday night at a restaurant the group used to frequent while teammates. Kadri, a teammate of Phaneuf for the entirety of his Leafs tenure up until the trade, said it brought back some good memories.

"It’s like nothing ever changed," Kadri said.

Phaneuf said he wouldn’t usually meet with the opposition ahead of a game, making an exception in this case.

"There’s mixed emotions because I’m such good friends with them," he said. "I enjoyed playing with them immensely. I wish them nothing but the best, I wish them nothing but success, except when they’re playing us."

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