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'Special moment' honours Phillips' 1,000 games

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
On this day, at least, there were no dramatic goals or remarkable storylines.

Rather, a simple and heartfelt thank you to a standup guy who's made the Ottawa Senators — and the city they call home — so much richer because of his mere presence.

Two days after reaching the 1,000-game milestone in an Ottawa jersey, the Senators and 20,085 cheering fans paid tribute to Senators blueliner Chris Phillips in an emotional pre-game ceremony prior to Saturday's matchup with the Edmonton Oilers at Scotiabank Place.

While it didn't have the drama of Game No. 1,000 itself — Phillips scored a pair of goals, including the winner, as the Senators edged the Nashville Predators 4-3 — the brief tribute seemed the perfect way to honour a Prairie boy who's gone about his business in a humble, hard-working way, with the team's success always front and centre.

No wonder then, after receiving gifts galore and several rounds of huge ovations from the Scotiabank Place crowd, Phillips found it hard to stand in front of them all and share his feelings of gratitude for everyone who's been a part of his 14-year career in Ottawa.

"It’s one thing play hockey in front of … it doesn’t matter how many people," said the 33-year-old Phillips, who watched captain Daniel Alfredsson go through the same type of ceremony almost two years ago. "It’s what you do. But when you have to talk in front of them, it’s a whole new ballgame and the knees were pretty shaky.

"Maybe it was a little easier for me after seeing what Alfie went through, but when you have to get up and talk in front of that many people … that’s uncharted territory for me."

But Phillips, with wife Erin and children Ben, 8, Zoe, 7, and Niomi, 4, at his side, found exactly the right words for everyone he wanted to thank. It included his teammates "for making this journey so fun, and for all the memories and friendships that are going to last a lifetime," his parents "for allowing me to follow my dreams and make it to the NHL," his Ottawa-born wife "for believing in me, for picking me up when I’m down, keep my humble during the good times" and the children who "are Daddy's biggest fans, no matter what."

The blueliner known as the "Big Rig" saved his closing thought for Senators fans and the citizens of the capital, saying "you are the reason I call Ottawa home."

Alfredsson, the first player in Senators modern franchise history to hit the 1,000-game milestone with the team, was impressed by the way Phillips handled the spotlight over the last few days.

"He set the stage himself by scoring two goals on Thursday to kind of bring even more excitement for this game," said the captain. "It was great to see the reception he got. It’s a great feeling when you’re out there, knowing how hard you worked to get to that point and you feel like you’re appreciated for all the work you put in.

"To be able to thank the fans, your family and players and coaches who have been with you … it was a special moment."

Prior to his speech, Phillips received the NHL's Tiffany Milestone Award, a commemorative silver stick and watch from Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, and a silver puck from Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and general manager Bryan Murray.

During a stoppage in play during the first period, a video tribute featuring former teammates Zdeno Chara, Anton Volchenkov, Wade Redden and Mike Fisher played on the Bell HD Screen. That brought a smile to Phillips' face.

"That was very nice to see those guys up there," he said. "I played alongside them for a number of years ... great memories. It was a nice touch."

It's been quite a three-day celebration for Phillips, whom the Senators picked first overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. Even Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Oilers couldn't dampen it in any way.

"It was a lot of fun," said Phillips. "Having your family out there and the fans cheering for you. It just topped off the last few days, for sure."

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