Skip to Main Content
The Official Site of the Calgary Flames


Matthew Phillips' grandfather Don predicted his grandson would be drafted by the Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

This story was originally published on Sept. 19, 2018. With Phillips making his NHL debut today, we thought we'd take a trip down memory lane!


The founder, president-in-perpetuity and curator of the Matthew Phillips Fan Club, happily enough, resides in the magically-named Happy Adventure, Newfoundland.

"It's in a little cove, about an hour and a half from Gander,'' reports Phillips. "There's just their house, a road and a little bay on the ocean.

"Pretty cool.

"My mom's whole family is from Newfoundland.

"And my grandpa, well, he's my biggest fan in the world. He'd run his mouth pretty good about me while I was growing up but I guess that's pretty typical of grandparents.

"He kept telling everyone one day I'd play for the Calgary Flames. All the the time. Over and over.

"And I'm betting they were all looking at him like: 'Yeah, sure.

"'Whatever you say, Don …'"

Well, Grandpa Don Winsor was back home in Happy Adventure on June 25, 2016, when the Flames announced Phillips as their 166th overall, at the 2016 NHL Draft, held at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

"I'd been going up and down press row, for years, telling all the boys, good friends, that Matthew was going to be drafted by Calgary,'' laughs Winsor.

"Something told me. Don't know why, but it did. All his minor hockey was played here in Calgary and the good Lord must've been looking down because it worked out.

"And when the Flames picked him, let me tell you, sir, I was in seventh-heaven."


Video: Phillips' grandfather knew Flames would draft him


That afternoon, Matthew and his mom were watching the draft together.

"Finally,'' recalls Donna, "Matthew had practice and had to leave. I think he'd been gone 20 minutes, half an hour, when his name was called.

"I'd given up on it. So I'd left, too. I heard the news on the radio. But pretty exciting for all of us.

"I've seen so many of his games. But that exhibition game he played here, against San Jose, was one where I kinda went: 'Wow … This is crazy.'

For a quarter-century, Grandpa Don wrote a column back home for a group of community papers, primarily the Gander Beacon, with the kicker Views From Behind the Bench ("Now that,'' he jokes, "is original."). Sports, particularly hockey have always been an integral part of his life.

Winsor's been here in town for the past month, visiting daughter Donna and watching the apple-of-his eye, Matthew, get primed and then jump into training camp.



"You're here, watching him play, and you think back …

"I was there when he first skated on ice, back at the Glacier, back in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland. He was five years old at the time. And I remember he really wanted that black piece of rubber.

"He still wants it.

"I've watched him all the way up. I have so many memories. Oh, hundreds of them. My mind is full of them. I remember a game down in Medicine Hat, a bantam game. They're in a tournament. The fans in front of me were giving Matthew a hard time. I usually stand, not sit, at minor hockey games.

"Anyway, the face-off's at the far end, and Matthew, playing centre, got the draw, came off the boards, skated the length of the ice and scored.

"So I had to go over to these three chaps giving him the grief, tapped one of them on the shoulder, pointed to the ice and said: 'That's Matthew Phillips.'"

When grandpa Don first came out west, way west, to visit Donna, as a working media person he got in touch with then Flames' media Rick Skaggs for practice and game access.

The tie has only grown from then on.

"It's a really unique story,'' agrees Phillips. "My mom's lived here for over 30 years, so whenever he'd be out this way, being a sportswriter, he'd have the connections.

"Grandpa and (Flames' VP of communications) Peter Hanlon are pretty good friends, both Maritimers. So ever since I was little he'd try and get me up into the press box. He took my older cousin up once or twice, but I never got to. 

"Whenever he was here, he'd always make his way down to the 'Dome. He took me to a pre-game skate a couple times. That was exciting.

"As time's gone along, he's had more and more reminders for everyone. 'Watch this kid. He's coming up. Keep your eye out.' That type of thing.

"And, as I said, he kept telling everyone I'd be drafted by the Flames. So when it actually happened, he was really excited. I think Peter was one of the first people he contacted and there've been a lot of 'I told you so!'s since then.



"He's been here the last couple of games in a suit and tie. It's pretty funny, I was doing an interview, then I kinda feel a presence beside me.

"My grandpa's standing there in a suit with his media pass. How cool is that?

"He's probably the happiest person in Alberta. 

"He's extremely supportive, positive. I look up to him. He's been in my corner and taught me a lot about how to approach the game. This last month, the whole experience, has probably been more rewarding for him than it is for me.

"He knows his stuff. He's a huge sports fan. We get along really well, are similar in a lot of ways.

"This past month has been really special."

Grandpa Don and Donna flew to Victoria to watch Matthew play in his old stomping grounds, Save-On-Foods Arena, receive a standing O on introductions from the Royals' faithful.

They even trotted out the Matthew Phillips bobblehead from his WHL days.

"Oh, we've got a few of those floating around here,'' says Donna.

"Just so much fun to be back in that rink. Dad and I stayed with the billets Matthew had when he was playing out there. So to have that tribute and everything was so great."

"That,'' says Grandpa Don of the reception at Matthew's junior homecoming Monday, "was wicked. It was impressive to see him skate out wearing a Flames' jersey. Oh, my … I get emotional just talking about it.

"I turned to Donna, sitting with me, and said: 'That's it for me.'"

Tonight, another key audition for Matthew Phillips, with mom and grandpa in the stands.

"To be able see him wearing that jersey again,'' says Don, "this time skating onto the ice at the Saddledome … that'll be wicked, too.

"This has been such a great visit for me."

Happy Adventure, it seems, isn't restricted to a little cove about an hour and a half from Gander, Newfoundland.

View More