NEXT HOME GAME – Tuesday, Jan. 29 versus Calgary Mustangs
COURTESY OF THE OKOTOKS WESTERN WHEEL
Story by Remy Greer (written Jan. 23, 2013)
Through three seasons of tinkering with the formula an Okotoks blueliner has found the perfect recipe for success with the Canmore Eagles.
Okotokian Trey Phillips has hit the mark as a third-year defenceman with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Eagles by nearly doubling his career high in points with 21 in his 19-year-old season.
“I think it’s just from experience in the league,” Phillips said Thursday from the bowels of Max Bell Arena in Calgary. “I’m more confident this year making plays and with my teammates I keep passing and they keep scoring.
“I like to think I’m the go-to-guy this year. I’m always on the ice, always in the play.”
Blessed with blazing speed and terrific offensive instincts, Phillips has been a one-man show at times for the Eagles. However, this season, the rushing defenceman has also grown to love the less glamorous facets of the back-end.
“I’m not the biggest guy in the league so I try to use my stick to my advantage and I still feel like I can play physical too,” Phillips said.
“I don’t want to sacrifice anything to be offensive. I want to be known as a two-way defender. It’s just as important to keep the puck out of your own net as it is to set up a goal.”
Striking the right balance of controlled aggression and two-way play hasn’t always been easy for Phillips, who moved to Okotoks from Medicine Hat at the age of 14 and played with the Midget-15 Keystone Raiders of the Okotoks Oilers Athletic Association.
“My first year with Canmore I played a little bit of forward,” Phillips said.
“It was tough to transition from Midget AAA. I came in as a defenceman and it was tough to deal with the bigger, faster guys.”
Phillips has a firm handle on that task now.
Eagles head coach and general manager Andrew Milne said the blueliner’s maturation over three years in Canmore is considerable.
“He’s really coming into his game. We always knew he had tons of talent and sees the ice so well,” Milne said. “He’s picking his spots so much better this year than he has in the past.”
Phillips’ offensive instincts are so advanced it has taken time for newcomers to the Eagles to adjust to the blueliner’s on-ice vision, his coach noted. However, it’s Phillips’ play in his own zone which has taken the greatest leap forward in 2012-13.
“He’s been our number one guy back there and able to shut down the other team’s top line, but also able to create offence,” Milne said. “Trey has just evolved into being an outstanding defenceman. It’s taken a couple years for him to develop into that, but the positive with Trey is he has one more year.”
With another season of Junior eligibility in the bank, the 19-year-old said he looks to develop further and gain traction with collegiate scouts south of the border where the Okotokian hopes to continue his hockey career.
“I haven’t talked to any schools, but I am hoping to,” Phillips said. “If I keep working hard hopefully it will come. I’d love to go down south.”
The 19-year-old knows team success will lead to personal success and the Eagles have the former down pat in 2013.
Canmore’s playoff hopes were left for dead in early December as the Junior A outfit was in the midst of a 13-game losing streak and sat at the bottom of the South Division standings.
Their fortunes changed on Dec. 19 when Canmore defeated the Grande Prairie Storm and the Eagles have been on the right side of the score ever since.
Canmore is now the hottest team in the AJHL with eight wins in nine games and quickly moving up the South Division from last place to fifth.
The Eagles notched a feather in their cap earlier this month when they handed the number-one ranked Brooks Bandits their first loss on home-ice of the season and first defeat at the hands of a divisional opponent.
“That 13-game slide was tough on everybody and as soon as we came out of that we got some confidence back,” Phillips said. “Now that we have some confidence we’re going to roll until the end of the season and hopefully until playoffs.”
Post-season appearances have been few and far between for Phillips and the Eagles.
Canmore finished last in the South in 2011-12 and outside of the playoff picture and were swept from the first-round in 2010-11, Phillips’ rookie campaign.
It’s a different group flying the Eagles’ flag this year.
“We’re an older, more experienced team this year and I think that helps a lot,” Phillips said. “We’re going to push on until the end of the season and hopefully get home-ice in the playoffs.”
The Eagles (18-20-5) are clawing at the heels of the Drumheller Dragons for fourth in the division with three games in hand and a nine-point deficit on the Dragons.