Youth must be served. So must speed.
Perhaps it was appropriate Matthew Phillips didn’t even have to hesitate when asked of his favourite Olympic performers from over the summer in Rio: Usain Bolt and 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak.
The youth movement in junior hockey last season was personified by Phillips himself, who again fittingly, could be described as a bolt of pure pace and quickness in being named WHL rookie of the year.
Now maybe only a smidgen taller, if that, than last season’s listed five-foot-six, this dynamic forward, however, features big in the Victoria Royals future. And maybe even that of the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
Phillips performed in Royals training camp this week at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, which concluded with him scoring two goals for the winning White team in its 6-3 victory in the annual Blue/White intrasquad game Wednesday night. That was after having skated earlier this summer in Flames development camp.
“It still hasn’t sunk in even yet,” said Phillips, about being selected by his hometown Flames in the sixth round, 166th overall, in the 2016 NHL draft.
“It was special. It was like I was dreaming.”
It sure wasn’t junior hockey, anymore, as Flames hopefuls from the pro AHL and ECHL converged, along with those from major-junior and the NCAA in the development camp.
“Even a guy like Keegan Kanzig [the six-foot-six, 245-pound Flames draft pick and former Royal] didn’t stand out as a big defenceman,” noted Phillips.
But the one thing the Flames stressed, said Phillips, was not to obsess about his size. That could be sage advice from a franchise that has had previous success with undersized star forward Johnny Gaudreau, a player Phillips grew up watching closely.
“They said I can’t control how tall I get,” said Phillips.
“But they said I can get stronger and get heavier.”
A summer in the gym has Phillips listed 10 pounds heavier at 150 pounds.
“But the Flames also told me not to get too specific on a [weight] number,” he added.
After a spectacularly surprising freshman WHL season that included 37 goals and 39 assists for 76 points, Phillips knows people are expecting significant production out of him in his sophomore season with the defending WHL regular-season champion Royals.
“Pressure is something you put on yourself,” said Phillips. “If you remain calm, success will follow.”
Thirteen returning players were among the 42 who dressed for the intrasquad game Wednesday evening. Nine returning players were given the night off.
Along with Phillips’ two goals, Blake Bargar added the hat-trick for the victorious White squad. Bargar is a gritty 18-year-old from Torrance, California, who had two goals, eight points and 73 penalty minutes in 119 WHL games over the past two seasons for the Moose Jaw Warriors. He was acquired by the Royals in a May trade for a conditional eighth-round bantam draft pick.
“This [intrasquad] game shows the depth in this [Royals] organization,” said Phillips.
Gunnar Wegleitner scored the other White goal. Arjun Atwal, rookie Lach Hadley from Victoria and returning defenceman Ralph Jarratt scored the Blue goals.
The Royals, meanwhile, announced Wednesday they have signed 1999-born defenceman Jeremy Masella from Phoenix, 2000-born blue-liner Matthew Smith from Saskatoon and 2001-born forward Tarun Fizer of Chestermere, Alta. The three were already on the Royal’s 50-player protected list.
Masella made an immediate impact with a third-period clean hit that required returning forward Ryan Peckford needing help to hobble off the ice. There was no news after the game about the extent of the injury.
The Royals open the WHL exhibition season Friday by playing the Blazers in Kamloops, followed by games Saturday in Kelowna against the Rockets, and Sunday in Everett, Washington, against the Tri-City Americans.