Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Chris Phillips Autographed Card

The Ottawa Senators retired Chris Phillips' number last night and even ended up winning the game against the Buffalo Sabres.

I wanted to write a heartfelt article detailing all the important moments of his career, why he chose that specific number, who he wanted to share the moment with, but not only did Sportsnet's Wayne Scanlan beat me to it, he did it so perfectly that there is nothing more I could add to that part of the story, so go ahead and read it, I'll wait.

It certainly brought a tear to my eye.

Some casual hockey fans might ask themselves why he deserved that honour, some even dispute his selection as the first-overall draft pick in 1996 head of heart-and-soul star captains like Zdeno Chara (56th) and Daniel Brière (24th), but in true "hockey terms", he was worth his salary in the team sport just as much as anyone on that level even if he didn't take part in any All-Star Game and didn't win a Norris Trophy.

The fact that he ended up getting votes in two years while playing alongside players like Chara, Wade Redden and Erik Karlsson shows you that his value did resonate even though he never passed the 30-point mark himself. Some sports writers actually saw the value that came with being an elite shut-down defender for a few moments.

And he was clutch, as that article mentioned, considering 13 of his 71 regular-season goals are game-winners, and one of his 6 playoff goals not only did the same but was an overtime series clincher.

He had nerves of steel that made him step up when it mattered most.

He was a very good hockey player of his ilk, but he was a great teammate.

And once in a while, once per 25 or 50 years, an organization has to recognize the best such player of its past generation or two and honour them, to show the following generations that playing in the shadows doesn't necessarily mean never getting recognition.

It was one thing for him to beat Daniel Alfredsson's franchise games played mark by one, but it's another to have his jersey hang alongside the most inspiring player to wear the uniform in the team's current iteration. And it's fully deserved.

I figured I could take this prolonged look back by featuring him on card #325 from Upper Deck's 1997-98 Series 2 collection, showing him wearing the Sens' white (then-home) uniform at the 1996 draft:
The two-time Team Canada World Juniors gold medal winner (1996 and 1997) signed it in blue sharpie during one of his two final seasons, so either in 2013-14 (most likely) or 2014-15.

During his playing days, he went by the nickname "Big Rig" because he was 6'3" and weighed 220 pounds (and defended his zone like he was 6'5" and 250); he now co-owns and operates a microbrewery of the same name in Ontario.

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