Morgan Rielly recalled being a 19-year-old when he joined the Maple Leafs for his first season in 2013.
The team’s first-round pick (fifth overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft, he didn’t know exactly what to expect when making the jump to the show.
But there was Dion Phaneuf, who made an effort to make the rookie feel at home.
“He was a guy that I looked up to and I still do today,” Rielly said. “Just with the way he carried himself and the way he handled his career, how he treated people, the way he went about his business is a way that I always admired.”
Rielly is the only holdover from the Phaneuf’s six seasons with the Maple Leafs. Mitch Marner was in the organization heading to his first camp with the team in Halifax in 2015. When he got on the plane, the rookie was nervous, but found the captain motioning him to grab the seat next to him.
“We talked about London (the city where Marner played junior hockey). talked about watches, if I like watches if I like cars,” Marner said. “He was great for that little time I had with him, obviously I was a fan of him growing up in Toronto and what he did the ice and off the ice is pretty spectacular, too.”
While many remember Phaneuf as the leader of a team that chose not to salute its fans after a victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 20, 2014, an incident he truly regrets, it’s the impact he had on his teammates that the player is most proud of in his 14-year career.
“When you hear guys speak of you and say kind words about an experience that they had or how they felt at ease, it means a lot,” Phaneuf said.
He learned from professionals who made him feel comfortable when he joined the NHL in 2005. Back then, he was the rookie when Jarome Iginla phoned him up to play some golf.
His first GM and head coach, Darryl Sutter gave him the tools that helped him play 1048 NHL games.
“He taught me what it was like to be a professional and a consistent one, and what you needed to do to stay in the league and play a long time,” Phaneuf said.
Phaneuf announced his retirement on Tuesday, but admitted that since he hadn’t played since the end of the 2018-’19 season that he had been retired for a while. In January 2020, Phaneuf was seen around Scotiabank Arena job shadowing Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. Now living in Los Angeles, Phaneuf would like to return to the game in some capacity, but has yet to decide what path he’ll take.
But he had a lasting impression on two core Maple Leafs who play large roles for the club in Rielly and Marner. And how they continue to pass on what they learn is likely how the Phaneuf chapter in Toronto will end.
Paying it forward.
“I feel how your teammates remember you is really what matters,” Phaneuf said. “I hope I’m remembered as a guy that competed hard, played the game hard, that would do anything for his teammates and played the game the right way.”