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Outdoor game a new experience for Phillips

by Tal Pinchevsky

VANCOUVER -- In his 16th season with the Ottawa Senators, defenseman Chris Phillips thought he had seen it all.

With two silver medals at the IIHF World Hockey Championship and two gold medals at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship (not to mention an appearance in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final), the stay-at-home defenseman has been a picture of consistency for the Senators, who drafted him first at the 1996 NHL Draft.

But with his appearance Sunday in the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic against the Vancouver Canucks at BC Place (4 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, NBCSN), Phillips is learning that even a franchise fixture can sometimes enjoy new experiences.

"It's very cool. I've been with this team for a long time now, but never in an outdoor game or something of this magnitude," Phillips said after Ottawa practiced at the stadium. "It's fun to have the opportunity to do that. I'm looking forward to it."

Phillips has missed 10 games this season, but he has otherwise been a remarkable picture of consistency in Canada's capital. Entering the 2013-14 season, he had missed three games in seven years, a statistic that typifies the leadership and defensive responsibility provided by the longtime Senator. But in a career filled with numerous accomplishments, Phillips hadn't played in a stadium game before this season.

"Being in the nation's capital, I was sure maybe one would come to Ottawa. You see the guys participate in it and have a good time with it. We're going to do the same thing," Phillips said. "It's just an experience that I haven't had before. Looking forward to that and making the most of it and kind of cherish it."

It's especially fitting that the Alberta native finally makes an appearance in Canada's trademark NHL spectacle. Only three active players (Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes, Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks and Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils) have played more games with their current team than Phillips. Longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson was Ottawa's most tenured and iconic player before signing with the Detroit Red Wings last summer. As the Senators' elder statesman, Phillips has looked to fill the role previously served by Alfredsson.

It's an enjoyable experience for Phillips, who recognizes how rare it is for players his age to spend their entire career with one team.

"It seems to be happening less and less. It hits home a little bit when you see some of the young guys coming in," he said.

Phillips was reminded of how long he had been with the Senators when 20-year-old defenseman Cody Ceci joined the team this season. An Ottawa native, Ceci grew up cheering on the Senators and even participated as a youth hockey player in a team skills competition that featured Phillips.

"Ceci's a local guy from Ottawa. Was real young when he was a fan of the team and hanging out with us. I'm having fun with it," Phillips said. "There's a picture that came out on Twitter. He was in our skills competition, he was in it as a minor hockey kid. It's come full circle for me."

Entering free agency and with the NHL Trade Deadline on Wednesday, Phillips wouldn't comment about his future in Ottawa. On the eve of a unique moment with the only franchise he has ever known, he was instead looking forward to the game Sunday. It's primed to be a day that will provide a new chapter to the career of an Ottawa sports staple.

And in typical Phillips fashion, he's focusing primarily on the task at hand.

"We enjoy it, the whole production," he said. "But once the puck is dropped we're focused. It's a big two points for us."

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