Two weeks shy of Hockey Canada world junior training camp invites, these will be nervous times for Matthew Phillips.
The Victoria Royals’ scoring star returned this week from his two-game stint with Team WHL in the CHL Canada-Russia Series, which was split with a 7-0 win — in which he scored once — and a 4-3 setback in southern Saskatchewan.
He, like many other under 20-year-olds through the WHL, Ontario and Quebec leagues will now await word on whether they will have a chance to represent the country at the world junior championship, slated to begin Boxing Day in Buffalo.
“It’s obviously crunch time here, I guess. The announcement will come in a couple of weeks or so, I’m not sure, but I just need to focus on what I’m doing here and how hard I’m working here,” said Phillips, who returns to action tonight with his Royals teammates at 7 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre against the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings.
“Hopefully, things fall into place, but there are certain things that I can’t control. I just try to control what I can control and try to be better every day.”
The communication will not be forthcoming for some time as Hockey Canada officials comb through possible selections. Phillips will obviously be in tough, considering there are a dozen forwards in each of the three leagues who are all worthy.
“It’s not easy, there are a lot of players that are top players on their junior clubs and it’s a different atmosphere there. You have to be able to do more things than just put up points or whatever it is you do on your junior team,” said Phillips.
“That’s the big thing, try to be mobile and do a lot of different things. Everyone has skills so they’re looking for guys that fit the mould of a lot of different roles, and that’s a big thing.”
Phillips knows officials will continue to watch over the next two weeks and injuries always occur along the way.
“There’s not too much communication,” said Phillips. “Obviously, they [Hockey Canada] have a lot to cover throughout the CHL and Junior A leagues. When you’re in the event [Canada-Russia series] you get a lot of good feedback from the coaches and you can’t help but learn and get better when you’re in that atmosphere. But I think they have a lot going on to watch and monitor for sure.”
He said the two games against Russia were an obvious measuring stick, more scenarios in which the Calgary Flames draft pick learned a great deal.
“In those games there’s a lot you can’t control, like who you are playing with and sometimes chemistry isn’t perfect, but I think I worked my hardest,” said Phillips. “I skated hard and competed and I think that’s what they were looking for — just work ethic and focus on the things you can control.”
To date, he has controlled his play just fine. The talented, diminutive forward has been in on 35 of the 93 goals the Royals have scored to date and he is on pace to shatter his 90-point total from last season.
Phillips, with 15 goals and 20 assists, also has points in 18 of his 19 appearances for the Royals. The only game he was kept off the sheet was the recent 4-2 loss at home to Kelowna.
“We watched the [series] games really closely, and I know the players did, too,” Royals head coach Dan Price said. “We’re really happy for him to get that well-deserved recognition.
“In the first game he had the goal and there was lots of special-teams time and the second game was different with being down to 11 forwards, but he was still able to contribute and he was all around the puck, as he always is. He represented himself and the franchise really well.”
Now the 13-5-1-0 Royals get back to work against the struggling 5-10-2-0 Oil Kings tonight before travelling to Vancouver to play the 6-8-1-2 Giants on Saturday.