It took three words to slap an irreversible grin on the mug of the teenager.
No three words could have been more smile-inducing, either.
Three words, via text, that simply read: Calgary Flames. Congratulations.
“Nope. Nope. Not a chance,” sputtered Matthew Phillips.
The words, from his agent, brought a faint dream into stunning reality.
Phillips had been selected by his hometown Flames in the sixth round (No. 166) of the 2016 NHL Draft.
“I am through the roof,” he said.
“I’m so excited with everything.
“It’s pretty unreal.
“I looked at the text and was in shock for a second. Five seconds later, everything … bunch of phone calls, texts … my phone just blew up instantly. It was pretty cool. I was pretty happy I managed to answer Calgary’s phone call.”
The text, followed by a cellular explosion, followed by a call from none other than Flames general manager Brad Treliving and assistant GM Craig Conroy (who lobbied for the pick), came minutes before the most unproductive on-ice session of Phillips’ life.
Yes, he still practiced afterwards.
No, it wasn’t a fruitful skate.
“It was probably my least-focused ice time ever,” he said. “I was just smiling the whole time and trying to process everything. I think it might take a while, especially the fact that it’s Calgary.
“I don’t know what to say.”
The shock level, understandably, is high when your hometown team calls your name to tug on the jersey.
Even more so for Phillips, who wasn’t entirely sure he’d get drafted despite starring for the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League, scoring 37 goals and 76 points, and after earning a nod as the league’s rookie of the year.
Not when you’re 5-foot-7.
Not when you’re 150 pounds.
“I didn’t know,” Phillips hesitated.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. I knew it was possible that I wouldn’t get picked, and I had no idea if I got picked, what round … no clue. I was just watching. I was a fan. I got a lot of friends who got picked today, too. I was just watching with my mom and my friend. I had a good interview with Calgary. I thought it went really well.
“They were one of the teams I was fingers-crossed about.
Best case scenario, perhaps?
“Absolutely,” Phillips said, leaving no room for hesitation. “100 percent.”
It doesn’t hurt that he’s joining the same organization as one of his idols.
Johnny Gaudreau, who coincidentally enough, was drafted at 5-foot-6, 141 pounds.
“Gaudreau … I’ve been watching him pretty closely since he came into the league and he’s just installed in people’s minds that it’s possible if you’re small, if you play the game the right way you can have success,” Phillips said. “I’ve got a lot of motivation watching him grow into the league and develop to where he is now.
“I’ve never met him or spoken to him. I’m watched pre-game skates with him and stuff like that. My eyes were glued to him. But I’ve never met him, no.”
But when they do they’ll have plenty to talk about.
They’re cut from the same cloth, it would appear.
And that comparison isn’t something Phillips is going to hide from.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s overwhelming, but I don’t want to think too much into it. He’s a really special player. For people to draw similarities in our games is pretty cool.
“Everyone knows that he’s extremely skilled and what he can do offensively is pretty amazing, but I just love watching his compete level and how he can dominate. He goes out there and he wins his battles and he makes players that play with him better. I like the fire that he brings to the game. He’s an energetic player. You can’t help but watch him. The offence and the skill is something that he’s almost in a class of his own, but what separates him from all the other smaller guys that got picked in his year is his energy and compete level.
“I think we’re similar in how we see the ice. He’s always head up … his head is always up. He’s making passing all over the ice and he’s an unselfish player. I think I’m an unselfish player, so I think our hockey sense is pretty similar, I think.”
Surprisingly though, there’s no Gaudreau jersey hanging in his closet.
One may appear soon.
He’ll place it next to the one he has of Jarome Iginla.
And one he’s certain to receive in the next few days.
Freshly pressed with the Flames logo on the front.
And one word, Phillips, on the back.