PENTICTON, BC -- Pinch him.
He still might not buy it.
Because Matthew Phillips is still having a hard time believing he’s pulling on a Calgary Flames jersey at the Young Stars Classic.
“I think,” started Phillips, “it still doesn’t feel quite real.
“It’s something that is a pretty unique and pretty special opportunity that I have. Not a lot of kids are fortunate to get the opportunity I have.
“It’s important for me to not it let it go to waste … to work hard and come here and be positive and make the most of it.”
The Flames drafted Phillips, all 5-foot-7, 155 pounds of him, in the sixth round (No. 166) of the 2016 NHL Draft in June. The smile on the Calgary native hasn’t been wiped off since.
It grew when he tugged on the jersey for the first time “for real” in the Flames’ tournament opening 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday.
Fittingly, Phillips scored.
“The part that you love about it … you get excited for guys who get to do that and it was a special night for him, for sure,” said Ryan Huska, tasked with coaching Calgary’s young stars in Penticton.
“The goal he scored and the big smile he has coming back to the bench, that, for me is it. All those emotions and excitement of wearing the jersey of the team he watched all the way along was a cool experience for him.
“It really was.”
It really was.
“You can do the development camp and all that process, but nothing can really compare to playing in a real game,” Phillips said. “It was pretty cool. “It’s cool to be here and to play against three other NHL teams. It’s pretty fun. It’s special.
“It was pretty special to see my name on that jersey.”
Special is the word of the summer for Phillips.
Drafted by his hometown team? Check.
Participate in development camp with his favorite club? Check.
Hit the ice with players he’s spent years watching on TV ? Check.
And Phillips, the fan, had to make sure to check his awe at the door.
“For the first few skates it was kind of hard not to,” said Phillips, who joined the likes of Matt Stajan, Micheal Ferland, and Ladislav Smid, and former Flames Joe Colborne and Kris Russell in informal skates in August. “I used to get tickets to watch all those guys.
“It’s pretty cool to get to know them on a personal level. It’s also great to see, even in the start of August, the work ethic they bring to the rink and their attitude towards the game.
“It’s pretty cool to know those guys a little personally and not just on the ice. It was great to skate with them.”
The biggest eye opener might’ve been in lining up against Brian McGrattan, another former Flame.
McGrattan, who signed on to play with Nottingham in the AIHL earlier this month, has 17 years, nearly a dozen inches, and almost 80 pounds on the 18-year-old Phillips.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “You watch him on TV and you hear all these stories and all that kind of stuff, so to get on the ice with him and to see the size and power he has, it’s pretty unique.
“It’s cool to see the pro guys like that, and the guys that are known around the hockey community.”
If not only to get a taste of what could come.
A chance to live out his dream.
“I’ve noticed that already just from junior to here, there’s kind of more of that man-strength,” Phillips said. “You’re harder on pucks, passes are harder, hits are harder, and shots are harder. Everything’s a step up. The more I play at this pace the more I’ll get used to it.
“If I can go from there and adjust and mold my game into the next level then that would be great.”