is smiling as he begins to tell the story one more time, a tale of missed opportunity that sits just as well with him today as it did back then.
The clock was winding down in the gold-medal game at the 1996 IIHF World Junior Championship in Boston, with Team Canada holding a comfortable 4-1 lead over Sweden and a fourth straight gold medal clearly within its grasp.
All that was left that mattered was the final buzzer – and the celebration that would follow. The latter thought occupied the mind of Phillips, who hadn’t seen any ice time in the final game and didn’t figure that would change in the last minute.
“My first year (at the world juniors), I wasn’t playing a whole lot,” said the Ottawa Senators defenceman. “A few games, I didn’t even see any ice time. The final came and we were up (three) goals with a minute or so to go in the game and the trainer came down and said ‘before you guys go on the ice and throw your helmets and gloves and sticks all over the place, just leave your stuff on the bench.’ It would make it easier for them.
“I just handed him my stuff right there and got ready to jump on the ice and then with 30 or 40 seconds left in the game, the coach (Blair Mackasey, an assistant to head coach Marcel Comeau) called my name to get out on the ice and I was left standing there with no equipment. So I missed my opportunity for one shift but it was all right.”
Phillips had to chuckle then about the moment, just like he still does 13 years later.
“It was a great experience for me and a 30-second shift wasn’t really going to make a difference in my feeling about how the tournament went,” he said. “I was just thrilled to be a part of it and thrilled to be part of a championship team.
“Going through the December (selection) camp and making the team was a huge thrill, one that, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting. Just to go through it and be a part of Team Canada and to win a gold medal … you know you’re as much a part of the team as anyone else and it was a lot of fun.”
The feeling was much different a year later in Geneva, Switzerland. Phillips, who the Senators had made the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 National Hockey League entry draft, was the blue-line leader for Team Canada at the ’97 WJC. Canada blanked the U.S. 2-0 in the gold-medal game, completing a successful drive for five golds in a row.
“I played a lot more and had a bigger responsibility on the team,” Phillips said in recalling his 1997 experience. “It made it a little bit sweeter for me when we won that one.”
The two world junior goals remain special for Phillips, who fully understands the importance of the tournament to Canadians and the teenage hockey players who dream of representing their country on such an international stage.
“When you’re that age, that’s the tournament everyone dreams about,” said Phillips. “There is a lot of recognition and (people of) all ages are watching in Canada. At Christmas time and the holiday season … there is just so much excitement going on at that time of the year. To put your country’s flag on your jersey and go out and win a championship feels really good.”