Moments after I finished interviewing Calgary Flames prospect Matthew Phillips at development camp, a fan sheepishly walked up to me and asked who I was chatting with. I related that it was Phillips, and the fan replied “He’s really small.”
It’s nothing new to Phillips, who was the smallest player listed at development camp and has been the tiniest player on his team (and often in his league) since he began playing high level hockey. Listed by the American Hockey League as five-foot-seven and 155 pounds, Phillips had to establish himself in a brand-new league as a 20-year-old.
“A big growing season,” said Phillips. “Took kind of awhile to adjust at the start. It’s just a lot different, the pace is a lot higher, plays happen a lot faster. But I think once I got the hang of it I caught on pretty quick and I started to play my game and feel pretty comfortable, and I feel pretty good about the second half of the year.”
Phillips didn’t produce all that much in the first third of the season, with nine points in his first 20 games. The remainder of the season saw him put up 29 points in the remaining 45 games and get increasingly more responsibilities on the team.
“We had a lot of really good forwards,” said Phillips. “We had maybe 10, 11 forwards that could play top six. I definitely had to work my way up the lineup, and that’s a good thing for your rookie season, you have to earn it. I think it kinda came along. First 20-or-so games it just kinda wasn’t working but the effort was there, and it kinda clicked near the end.”
After a first pro season that was defined by a lot of changes, Phillips is focused on preparing the best he can for his sophomore season. Now that he has some experience under his belt, he’s approaching the off-season looking to prepare himself to push for NHL time.
“I think my mindset changes a lot this summer,” said Phillips. “Last year, a lot of uncertainty and ‘what it’s going to be like?’ and stuff but now I know. And now I have my goals on the NHL, and if I end up on Stockton I want to push the pace and be the best player every day. That’s where my head’s at. If it takes a little longer that’s okay, but my goal is making the NHL.”
Phillips isn’t a big man, but he’s an observant one. He’s aware that the Flames have lost a regular forward in Garnet Hathaway, but he’s not letting the business side of things impact his approach to the coming season. He’s focused on improving where he can and being the best player he can be.
“I feel like we had a lot of guys go up and down this year,” said Phillips. “And you see that if you work hard and you play as well as you can, you’re going to get the recognition eventually. If it takes this year, if I get the chance this year, next year or whatever it is, I just have to focus on myself.”