The Calgary Flames signed 2016 sixth-round pick Matthew Phillips to an entry-level deal on the final day of 2017 and it was a much deserved contract for the 19-year-old.
Just a few weeks earlier, despite a great start to his season with the WHL’s Victoria Royals, the forward found out he had not been invited to the Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp.
The five-foot-seven, 155-pound Phillips had put himself into contention for a spot on the team with a 50-goal season in 2016-17 and a strong showing in August for Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase.
Despite the heartbreaking news, Phillips took the omission in stride when he addressed the Victoria media.
“Disappointed is probably the word. It’s something that I was kind of working towards at the start of the year,” Phillips said when he wasn’t selected. “I mean, it’s a decision that’s kind of out of my hands, I feel like I worked my hardest and did my best.”
The response in my opinion was incredible. An incredible testament of maturity and frankly I don’t know many who, when given that type of pill to swallow, would have handled it as beautifully as Phillips did.
I have been watching Phillips since he was a 13-year-old member of the Calgary AAA Bantam Bisons. He was always undersized, but the first thing that stuck out to me was the joy and passion he played with and his uncanny knack for finding open spaces in the offensive zone.
A couple of years later in the prestigious Mac’s Midget Tournament during the 2014-15 season, Phillips showed again why bigger and better things were on the way. Phillips posted 20 points in six games, including hat tricks in each of the first three games. He was also named tournament MVP.
No WHL rookie posted more points than Phillips did in 2015-16 with 76 and the Flames couldn’t pass him up in the sixth round of the 2016 draft in Buffalo.
Since he was drafted, Phillips has been the Royals’ leading scorer with 78 goals and 149 points in 110 WHL games.
Maybe my favourite Phillips moment came in January of 2016, when the Royals hosted the Kelowna Rockets.
I was broadcasting the game and Phillips scored twice, added an assist and was clearly the best player in the game.
He also took a stick to the nose late in the third period which cut him quite badly. But he only missed one shift.
After the game, Phillips raced out onto the ice when his name was called as the first star with a a giant smile on his face. Then, when most players would have gone to the dressing rooms for repairs, he obliged our interview request bleeding from two foam plugged nostrils.
That to me is Matthew Phillips. He loves to play hockey.
While I wouldn’t say he is a guarantee to strut his stuff in the NHL, I expect him to play the game professionally. And I will be cheering for Phillips every step of the way.
Frankly I already have for quite some time.