As the Senators get ready to retire Chris Phillips' iconic #4 on Feb. 18th, Ottawa-native and Sens defenceman Mark Borowiecki couldn't be happier for his former teammate.
But Borowiecki's ties to Phillips started well before the pair ever shared a locker room together. As a young defenceman growing up in the shadow of Canadian Tire Centre, Borowiecki became a fan of Phillips from Day #1.
"I remember the day that he was drafted," said Borowiecki who was a few days shy of his 7th birthday when Phillips was selected by Ottawa first overall in 1996. "The thing that sticks out to me as a young defenceman trying to make his way was him and Volchenkov playing together. They were a standout pairing for this team for years and I think the way they played the game was fun to watch and impressive to see the sacrifices they made for this organization."
Borowiecki admitted to modeling his game after Phillips as a kid and as he rose up the Senators' prospect depth chart in the early 2010s, he found himself paired with #4 in his NHL debut in San Jose on Jan. 19th, 2002.
"It was special for sure and I was a little star struck at first to be honest. This is a guy that I worshiped growing up, I idolized him and Volchekov, so to have him as my defence partner was definitely a bit of a process for me," he said. "I was trying not to be too timid because he was a larger than life guy to me but he's so down to earth that he made me feel comfortable and I was really thankful for the opportunity to share that moment in my life with him."
"I don't remember much from that night...it was all kind of a whirlwind but his calmness definitely rubbed off on me," he added. "Even in my second game in L.A., I wasn't really happy with my performance and I felt overwhelmed but he was just so calm about everything. Nothing rattles him and that definitely helped to keep me grounded during my first stint with the Senators."
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Phillips remains the franchise's all-time games played leader at 1,179 but it was his contributions off the ice in helping to mold the next generation of Senators that Borowiecki hopes to mimic these days. With a steady flow of defensive prospects making their debuts in Ottawa recently, Borowiecki learned firsthand what a positive, welcoming mentor can mean to a rookie just trying to find his way in the best league in the world.
"As an older player, you do right by the game and do right by the kids when you go out of your way to make them comfortable," he said. "Philly did that for me and I think that shaped me as a player and now a veteran in this league. It's my duty to pass that on to the next group of young guys."
"I'm so thankful to him that he went out of his way to make me feel like a part of this team right from the start," Borowiecki continued. "It made me feel comfortable in my own skin and that can only help you in your personal development process."
And that's been Borowiecki's biggest revelation from watching Phillips' story unfold with the Senators since being the top pick way back at the 1996 NHL Draft. Ottawa has a meaningful hockey history and it's important to look back on the moments and players that have helped the organization along the way.
"For him to have played the amount of hockey that he did for this team, is unbelievable. We want to create that legacy here and make the players and fans realize that we do have a really strong hockey tradition in this city," Borowiecki said. "Philly gave a ton to this organization and he still continues to do that in his post-retirement role. I think it's important to recognize the man and the player for everything he gave this team and city."
Chris Phillips' jersey retirement ceremony is set to commence pre-game on Feb. 18th against the Buffalo Sabres (fans are asked to be in their seats by 6:30 p.m.). For more details on the event or to buy tickets, click here.