Jamie Phillips is always learning something, and it seems no matter where he goes, the starting goaltender of the Michigan Tech Huskies has teachers ready to help him. One of those teachers just happens to be Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers.
“Cam and I are from the same hometown (Caledonia, ON). We go to the same goalie school. Whenever we can get on the ice together we do,” the 21-year-old Phillips said. “I think it’s really helpful to have an NHL goalie to battle with. Cam is really good, and he’s come into his own in New York, and he gets to learn from Henrik Lundqvist who is one of the best goalies in the world. If he’s learned something from Lundqvist, and I learn something from Cam, I really hope that can pay off a little bit.”
It definitely has. After spending his first two seasons at Michigan Tech in a back up role, Phillips helped the Huskies to 10 straight wins to open the 2014-2015 NCAA season. As of the end of December, Phillips had a 1.69 GAA and a .939 save percentage through 16 games. The path to that success was paved by what he learned during his time as a back up.
“From not playing I really learned how to make the most of my practice opportunities. Every single game you get into you have to have almost a playoff mentality,” said Phillips. “In juniors, guys play 60-70 games. In college you play 30 or 40. I didn’t find the transition too hard. I have good goalie coaches here at Tech, and they really helped me in my development.”
His development into an NHL draft pick began with him between the pipes in Junior B to start the 2009 season. By 2010-2011 he was Junior A winning a national championship with the Pembroke Lumber Kings. By the time his draft year of 2012 came around, Phillips wasn’t thinking about being selected.
“I found out that I was even on the Central Scouting list when one of my friends who I hadn’t talked to in a couple years called me and told me. I didn’t even know who the number was. I was like ‘are you serious right now?’”
While the 2012 NHL Draft was going on in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Phillips was randomly checking his computer. Then everything changed.
“One of my friends called me and said I got drafted in the last round,” he said. “I went on the computer and I guess there was a 10-minute delay online, so my name didn’t even show up, and I was like ‘why would you even joke about that, that’s terrible’ and then he said ‘I’m watching it on TV right now. You’re name is on the TV.’”
Phillips was selected 190th overall by the Winnipeg Jets. Since that day, he has been in regular contact with the organization.
“They treat me as if I was a first round pick. I can’t ask for anything more. Goaltender Development Coach Dusty Imoo, he’s come out a couple times to see me play. He’s a good resource. Jimmy Roy (Player Development Coordinator) is an alumni of Michigan Tech. He always calls and makes sure I’m doing alright, and little things like that are really appreciated.”
Phillips is enjoying his first season as a starter in the NCAA’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association. He says college hockey fans make for a fun atmosphere at home or away.
“Obviously there’s nothing better than playing at home in front of 5,000 fans. But on the road, I’d have to say my number one (favourite arena to play in) is probably Ferris State. Their fans are really loud and enthusiastic,” he said. “Their student section is right behind the net and they’re loud, and rude, and it’s a good atmosphere. Then it’s probably Northern. They’re our arch rivals in everything at school, and that’s the place I played my first college game. So whenever you can beat them at their own rink, it’s a really satisfying feeling.”
Equally satisfying will be doing well in school. The balance between hockey and education can sometimes be a challenge. For example, after hosting Minnesota-Duluth over the weekend of December 12 and 13, Phillips had three exams December 15.
“We don’t have a reduced schedule at all. It’s the same as a regular student, it’s just for 5 or 6 hours a day we’re at the rink,” Phillips said. “Time management is important. It is tough. There are times when you finish practice and you’re exhausted but you have to go study for another 3 or 4 hours, otherwise you’re in trouble in your classes. We have lots of resources here with tutors, and our teachers are really understanding so they give us extra help if we need it.”