Matthew Phillips wrote his last diploma exam on Friday to officially graduate high school. While most kids are planning their summer holidays, 18-year-old Phillips was already back to business, answering calls about his dream career just 24-hours later.
Calgary-raised Phillips was selected 166th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft by his hometown team, the Calgary Flames.
“I don’t know if I can really put it into words that I just got picked in the NHL and then you think that it’s the Calgary Flames, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve gone to some many Flames games,” Phillips said. “It’s took me about a half an hour just to answer texts and now I’m moving on to phone calls. I think everyone is really excited.”
Oddly enough, NHL legend Theo Fleury, who’s also 5 foot 6, was drafted 166th overall by the Flames back in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft.
It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for any hockey player that dreams about a shot in the NHL, let alone to potentially play for the team whose jersey they wore as a young fan growing up.
But the odds of that happening for Phillips was even more rare in his case, because he’s not even close to the size of your typical NHL star or draft prospect.
The pint size Victoria Royals forward is 5 foot 6 (some might argue 5 foot 7) and 150 pounds, but his charisma definitely makes him seem so much taller and bigger in size, and of course his skill and speed on the ice.
Also a Calgary Buffaloes grad, Phillips was named WHL rookie of the year this season, after scoring 37 goals and 73 points in his first season in major junior while playing in all 72 games.
He was expected to be a middle round pick on Saturday at the draft, but using a pick for someone of his size wasn’t as easy to do until Johnny Gaudreau came along.
Flames all-star Gaudreau is 5 foot 9 and 157 pounds. The 22-year-old American had 12 goals and 30 points through 37 games in his first full NHL season with Calgary.
The 22-year-old American had 12 goals and 30 points through 37 games in his first full NHL season with Calgary.
He scored his first career NHL hat-trick against Jonathan Quick on December 22, 2014, in a 4–3 comeback win over the Los Angeles Kings, becoming the youngest Flames player to record a hat-trick since Joe Nieuwendyk in the 1987-88 season.
Gaudreau was then selected to play in the 2014-15 NHL All Star Game.
Phillips and Kelowna Rocket Dillion Dube, who was selected 56th overall by the Flames, both credit Gaudreau for opening up the door for the little guys.
“In hockey you hear a thing called the Gaudreau effect. You’ve seen the success that he has and at his size and how he impacts the game. I think if it wasn’t for him then small guys might get criticized a bit more but he’s a treat to watch. The game’s changing, there’s definitely a spot for smaller guys in the league,” Phillips said. “I’ve come to love watching guys like Johnny Gaudreau play, so the fact that the Flames believe in me and wanted to take a draft pick on my – it’s incredible.”
Cochrane raised Dillon Dube, who’s 5 foot 10, says he’s still considered a smaller guy and enjoys watching Gaudreau.
“I think the way he’s played obviously, I think he’s took over the game. For me and Matthew, it’s helped a lot,” Dube said.
In his rookie season with the Kelowna Rockets, undersized center Dube scored just 27 points in a 45-game stint during the 2014-15 regular-season, but he was a key figure in the post season.
He contributed 11 points in 18 playoff games en route to Kelowna’s WHL championship. He appeared in the Memorial Cup Final as well, but his team fell to the Oshawa Generals.
Rumour has it that Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy was the one really pushing for Phillips to be a Flame.
“I’ve never met him before, so that’s pretty amazing. For a guy of his pedigree to be pushing for me – I can’t say enough about it, it’s pretty incredible,” Phillips said.
The Flames organization also credited Phillips hockey mind for why they picked him.
“I think that’s a pretty big compliment. Because I think nowadays you have to have a really good hockey I.Q. to move up levels. The game is changing so much, there’s so many things that you need to be good. You need to be able to process the game really well, at high speeds. So for people to say that I have a good brain for the game, that means a lot for me,” Phillips said. “Everything is kind of happening at once. My diplomas are done, so I’ve graduated highs school. I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to go through something like this. So just going to soak it all in and keep working hard.”
Phillips and Dube, who are WHL rivals but also really good friends, now have a few more things to bond over – when the WHL season isn’t on of course.
“I’ve know Dillon for a long time. We played spring hockey together. He’s a smaller guy, he’s a fantastic player. He created a lot and is very dynamic offensively. It’s pretty cool for him to be going from Cochrane to Calgary. We can’t really be friends during the year but I think for right now, it’s really cool for us.”
“I was so happy when I saw him (Matthew). I played with him for spring hockey, we used to play together lots, so we’re really good friends. To share a moment like this with him is pretty special,” Dube said. ” I remember always coming to watch the Calgary Flames play and lots of my favourite players are from that team. So being able to one day maybe get a chance to put that jersey on and play for them, would be a dream come true.”
Calgary Flames 2016 Draft Choices:
|ROUND||PICK||OVERALL||TEAM||PLAYER||POS||COUNTRY||HT||WT||AMATEUR LEAGUE||AMATEUR TEAM|
|1||6||6||CGY||MATTHEW TKACHUK||L||USA||6′ 1″||202||OHL||LONDON|
|2||24||54||FLA-CGY||TYLER PARSONS||G||USA||6′ 1″||185||OHL||LONDON|
|2||26||56||DAL-CGY||DILLON DUBE||C||CAN||5′ 10″||183||WHL||KELOWNA|
|3||5||66||CGY||ADAM FOX||D||USA||5′ 10″||181||USHL||USA U-18|
|4||5||96||CGY||LINUS LINDSTROM||C||SWE||5′ 11″||165||SWEDEN-JR.||SKELLEFTEA JR.|
|5||5||126||CGY||MITCHELL MATTSON||C||USA||6′ 4″||191||HIGH-MN||GRAND RAPIDS|
|6||5||156||CGY||EETU TUULOLA||R||FIN||6′ 1″||224||FINLAND-JR.||HPK JR.|
|6||15||166||MIN-CGY||MATTHEW PHILLIPS||C||CAN||5′ 6″||140||WHL||VICTORIA|
|7||5||186||CGY||STEPAN FALKOVSKY||D||BLR||6′ 7″||224||OHL||OTTAWA|