OTTAWA – Chris Phillips has never really given much thought to stats during his career, but even he admits being a little overwhelmed by the fact Thursday’s game will be his 1,000th in the NHL.
“I guess it’s longevity,” said the Ottawa Senators defenceman. “I’m definitely proud and it’s a sign that you didn’t only make it, but you were able to stay.”
Phillips will now join a very select class in the NHL. He becomes only the 46th player in league history to play 1,000 games with the same team and the 270th player overall to reach the milestone.
The fact Phillips can lay claim to reaching the milestone with the Senators is impressive considering his name was often rumoured to be among those traded.
“There were many times in my career where I was mentioned as trade bait,” he admitted. “I think both sides can have a sense of accomplishment to have a guy play all 1,000 with one team and obviously when you look at the number of guys who have done it, it’s not that many. It’s a nice honour.”
Phillips arrived in Ottawa in 1997 as a 19-year-old rookie with high expectations heaped upon him as the first overall selection at the 1996 draft, and while he has lived up to those expectations his debut wasn’t so easy.
Over the years Phillips has earned the reputation as a hard-working stay-at-home defenceman, but many might be surprised to know that during that first year Phillips was often asked to play as a forward. His first goal was scored against the Florida Panthers as a forward.
Since then Phillips has become an anchor on the Ottawa blue-line. His overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2002-03 Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils as well as the team’s 2007 Stanley Cup run against the Anaheim Ducks rank as career highlights.
After 999 games Phillips has 60 goals and 250 points, and he would love nothing more than to get his first goal of the season in game number 1,000.
“There are lots of great memories,” he said. “Right from the time I was drafted until now I can look back and think of so many great times.”
At 33 years of age Phillips hardly considers himself old, but with the Senators boasting a number of twenty-somethings in the lineup he admits it’s hard not to feel a little ancient.
“You definitely get labelled as an old guy. (Alfredsson) and I will sometimes tell a story about guys we played with and the other guys are listening to the stories and they’re thinking, ‘Wow these guys are really old,’ but in the real world I still feel pretty young,” he said.
After 14 years with the Senators, Phillips can easily call Ottawa home. His wife, Erin, is an Ottawa native and his three children Ben, Zoe and Niomi were all born in the nation’s capital. He has created meaningful friendships both on and off the ice and lent his support to many local charities.
“Personally Ottawa is special because of the ties I have to this community,” he said. “Having a family and raising a family here and we spend most of the year here.”
In addition to his Ottawa family Phillips will have his mother, sister and numerous aunts and uncles from Western Canada on hand to share his celebration.
“It’s really special to have so much family taking part,” said Erin Phillips. “This is a great accomplishment.”
The Senators will honour Phillips prior to Saturday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. Part of the celebration includes the Senators painting Phillips’ No. 4 behind each of the nets.
“I saw it with Alfie, but it’s not something I expected for myself as well. It’s pretty neat to see it there for sure,” he said.
Phillips is also thrilled to have his children take part in the celebration. His son Ben wrote an essay for school on his dad reaching the milestone.
“I don’t know if they really know what it means or they think this is something that happens to everyone and this is just my turn,” he said with a laugh. “At least they will remember it and maybe when they’re older appreciate the significance.”