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Milestone night 'pretty special' for Sens blueliner

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
For the 900th time, defenceman Chris Phillips will suit up in an Ottawa uniform when the Senators face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images).

Chris Phillips considers the magnitude of the number and his thoughts immediately drift toward a more uncertain time.

The 32-year-old native of Calgary is considered the rock upon which the Ottawa Senators defence corps is built. Only one player in modern franchise history — captain Daniel Alfredsson — has suited up for more games in Senators colours.

Yet Phillips, who'll hit the 900-game mark in terms of National Hockey League service when he suits up against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), will tell you the path to that milestone wasn't always entirely straight. During his first few seasons in the league, his spot in the Senators lineup was anything but secure, despite his status as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.

"I started my career in and out of the lineup," Phillips said when asked about whether he thought back then that playing 900 games with the Senators could be in the cards for him. "I would have thought that was pretty unrealistic the way my career started, playing forward and, for the longest time, being the brunt of all the rumours when it came to trade deadline day.

"Luckily, for myself and my family, nothing ever did happen and I have been able to be here that long."

Now here he is, into his 13th season with the Senators and — as the 'A' on the front of his jersey suggests — clearly acknowledged as one of the team's foremost leaders. While Phillips takes the most pride in his abilities as a stay-at-home defenceman, it is also a fact that when he his the scoresheet, the Senators win much more often than not.

His status with the Senators conjures up a mix of feelings for Phillips.

"Some days (it seems that long) and some days no," he said with a chuckle as he pondered his longevity with the team. "And that's the honest answer. Myself and Alfie ... we'll talk about stories (that happened) when I first came in or whatever. If there are young guys listening, they're kind of amazed at how old we are or how long we've been here.

"In another sense, it's flown by and it certainly doesn't feel that long."

"Some days (it seems that long) and some days no. And that's the honest answer. Myself and Alfie ... we'll talk about stories (that happened) when I first came in or whatever. If there are young guys listening, they're kind of amazed at how old we are or how long we've been here. In another sense, it's flown by and it certainly doesn't feel that long." - Chris Phillips
Over that time, Phillips and his wife, Erin, have become fixtures on the community front in Ottawa. They're heavily involved in a number of charity ventures through the Sens Foundations and the city in which they're raising three young children — Ben, Niomi and Zoe.

All of which gives Phillips reason to extol the virtues of the city to the newcomers who make their way into the Senators dressing room each year.

"You're such a big promoter of how good the city is for families and for kids," he said. "How good it is to be in a place that really cares about their hockey and has passionate fans. I've been around a long time and if guys have questions about anything, I'm pretty capable of answering them."

Given the current salary cap system in the NHL, seeing a player spend his entire career with one team is becoming more rare with each passing season. But Phillips hopes to be one of those guys.

"It would be something special to go the whole way (in Ottawa)," said Phillips, who would love to hit the 1,000-game Senators milestone that Alfredsson reached at the end of last season. "I definitely saw how special it was for him and his family, and even for his teammates and the fans. We're a young organization and he's the first guy that's done that. To be able to go into that company would feel pretty special, for sure."

Around the boards

The Senators are still waiting on the return of goaltender Pascal Leclaire (lower body), who still isn't ready for game action. "Hopefully, he'll be on the ice tomorrow morning and we'll play it day by day," Ottawa head coach Cory Clouston said of Leclaire, who hasn't skated since late last week. "But he has progressed and he is better today than he was yesterday. The doctors and medical staff decided it was better to give him a couple more days completely off the ice and see how he feels for tomorrow." ... With Leclaire unavailable, the Senators have again summoned Mike Brodeur from the Binghamton Senators (AHL) and he'll back up Brian Elliott tonight.


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