YORKSHIRE'S Dave Phillips made history on October 4 when he became the first British-trained ice hockey player to ever play at AHL level in North America. The 22-year-old former Hull Stingrays defenceman keeps us posted on his progress with Rockford IceHogs in his exclusive blog.
Wednesday, April 22
The play-offs are now here and this really is the business end of the season! All North American sports are about winning the play-offs - it's a lot different to sport in England where the winning of the (regular) league season sees teams classed as champions.
Over here, that will mean nothing if you do not go on to win the play-offs.
We are playing Texas Stars in the first round best-of-seven series, we were already down in Texas for a week to play our last three regular season games then had to travel home for three days just to come right back again to play them in the playoffs for the first two games - it felt like we were there forever. But you get used to all the travelling, especially with playing in Belfast last season where we flew to the majority of our away games every weekend.
We lost both games while we were in Texas and (at the time of writing) are down 2-0 in the series. We are now at home for the next three games so we have a great chance to pull it back and advance to the next round which i think we can definitely do!
All the team got invited to a Chicago Blackhawks game which was great to go and see. We got to sit in one of the private boxes and then we had to go on the ice after the second period and get introduced individually.
It was also the first time Ihave seen someone get run over by a zamboni! There was an old man stood at the doors where the zamboni came out and the driver can't have seen him and justran over him - the old man was actually underneath the zamboni before he realised something had happened.
It was quite scary to see, but once I saw the guy get back up on his feet and that he was okay, I must admit it was pretty funny ....
(Note: A 6-1 defeat in the first of three home games at Rockford left the IceHogs 3-0 down to Texas in the seven-game series. The next two games are scheduled for Rockford on Friday, April 23 and Saturday, April 24).
Friday, February 12
Much has happened since I last updated!
Recently our team has been doing really well and I have managed to play lots of games and get good ice time as we have had a few injuries whih has been good for me personally.
I must admit, it felt strange over Christmas as it was my first Christmas that I didn't get to go home and spend with my family. We had four days off so one of the guys on our team Akim Aliu offered for me to go to his home in Toronto and spend it with his family which was very kind of him
When I got back it had been nearly two weeks since I had played a game and I got sent to Toledo in the ECHL for six games. It was a good oppurtunity for me to play lots of minutes and help a lot with my conditioning. While I was there I got to team up with my old team-mate from Belfast Giants, Malcolm Macmillan, whose house I stayed at while there.
Once I got back to Rockford, Paul Thompson (Coventry Blaze and Team GB coach) was over for a few days to try and learn a few things off our coaching staff and organisation - he also got to run a few of our practices which was fun!
We recently had another four days off for the All-Star break so OI thought I would take the oppurtunity to do some sightseeing. I flew to New York for three days - what an amazing city it is! I have never seen so many yellow taxis in my life ....
Also, in the past week we had a breast cancer awareness night during which we managed to raise nearly 10,000 dollars! it was a great occasion as the theme for the night was pink!
We played on pink ice which felt a little weird at first but you got used to it after a while, guys also taped there sticks with pink tape and used pink leg tape.
Four of us also dyed our hair pink (see picture) for the night and we did the warm up before the game with no helmets so the fans got to see (yes, someone did manage to hit me in the back of the head with a puck - last time I try and look cool doing that!). The rest of the guys wore long bright pink wigs for warm-up, it was hilarious ... then at the end they took them off and threw them into the crowd!
Can't think of much more to write right now . . . too many pucks to the head I think!
Saturday, December 19
Things over here have been going pretty well, the team has been playing much better and I'm also starting to feel lot more confident in games and feel like I'm really starting to improve rapidly.
Have been doing a bit of travelling since the last blog. The first long trip was to Abbotsford which is just outside of Vancouver which is a four-hour flight from Chicago. I had to fly a day earlier than the team as I had to do some finalising to my visa in Vancouver with a lady from the Blackhawks.
I had the VIP treatment for two days getting to fly business class and staying at the four seasons in Vancouver. Then I was chauffeured to Abbotsford which was really nice....
I speak fairly regularly to my friend Matt Myers, who is also playing over here in America, I could not believe it when we both realised we were both in Vancouver on the same day as he was also sorting his visa out, but also we were in the US embassy at the exact same time and we didn't even know, how weird! It would have been very strange, but fantastic if we had managed to bump into one another....
It was also Thanksgiving here the other week, the day we travelled to Grand Rapids, we came a day early as its a five-hour drive so we all had a Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel together as a team which was really nice and I had to say grace before dinner which went down with a few chuckles as some of the guys still can't get there heads around my accent!
It also involved me eating butter as someone played a prank on me with my dessert. There I was sat ready to tuck into my nice piece of strawberry crumble when I decided to have a little spoonful of what I thought was ice cream on the side of my plate - but it actually turned out to be a ball of butter but it looked incredibly like ice cream!
Recently we have just signed goalie Dan Cloutier, the brother of Hull Stingrays' player- coach Sylvain (anyone who has never heard of him, go to YouTube and search for him). He is real good guy and still an awesome goalie – I can't believe I play on the same team as him - LEGEND!
Last weekend we was down Texas y'all – it was nice to get out of the cold for few days! When we left Rockford it was -17 and thick snow! I have never been so cold in my life!
We played two games in Austin then one in Houston. After our game in Houston we had our team 'rookie party'. My team-mates still class me as a rookie as I have never played in North America or the AHL before.
We went for a really nice meal with all the players, medical staff and equipment managers which was really fun! All the rookies had to tell jokes and also had to pick another player's name out of a hat then mimic them as best as possible! I can definitely say my jokes and impressions went down a storm and I was definitely the best, as some of the other guys were terrible.
Thank you for reading and also all the support people have been giving me, it's nice to know people back home have been following my progress and been wishing me the best!
Wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy new year,
Sunday, November 1
So hockey on ice season has begun and started off with a long road trip up to Canada. We had three games in three nights which is really tough, especially with so much travel.
We drove for about 10 hours to Hamilton to play our first game (lost 3-0), then we drove down to Cleveland straight after that game there the next night. Then, after the Cleveland game (won 3-0) we drove back up to Toronto (Marlies - won 5-3) which is about 40 minutes from Hamilton.
It was not much fun in terms of the travelling we did, but it turned out to be a good weekend as we won two of the three games!
It was really fun to play in Cleveland against there team Lake Erie Monsters. They play out of the same arena as the NBA team Cleveland Cavaliers, who LeBron James and Shaq O'Neil play for.
The place was huge and was really nice - felt like was playing in the NHL as there was also a good crowd.
Recently, we signed a guy called Jassen Cullimore. He has played over 900 games in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup (with Tampa Bay in 2004)! He is also a D-man and in the short time he has been here he has tought me lots of things. It feels a bit surreal to be playing alongside a guy who has played that much at the top level, what a legend!
It is also really good to see guys from our team getting called up to play for the Blackhawks as they have had a few injuries lately. It's good to see that they are being given a chance and is a little weird that I'm practising and playing with thses guys and then watching them play the next day on the TV in the NHL!
It feels like I have been in England for the past couple of weeks because all it has done here is rain! I did, however, become much happier when Iwent food shopping the other day. I was looking for soy sauce down the 'international aisle' when I found a little section of English products, such as Tetley teabags, Ribena, Lucozade and Custard Creams to name just a few!
It was nice to see things here that you recognise as most of the American stuff is the same kind of thing you would buy in England but just a different version or brand and took a while to figure out what is what.
I had a little drive out the other day which was fun being on the 'wrong side' of the road! Everything went pretty smoothly which i was surprised about, apart from the moment when I nearly hit an old man off his bike! Dont think that would have gone down very well . . .
Hope you've enjoyed reading my latest blog entry - hope I haven't just wasted two minutes of your life!
Sunday, October 4.
Hi, first things first. I had a little problem arriving with the immigration because I forgot/didn't know I had to go to the US Embassy in London to get my visa in my passport!
It had been accepted, but i never knew Ihad to go to London and officially get this in my passport. I had to sit in a room with fellow other illegal immigrants, but after two hours and someone from the Blackhawks organisation coming and paying $580 I was free to go! It's all been sorted and I now have a visa which will last for the next five years!
My first week here was just incredible. Here I was at the Chicago Blackhawks training camp with all of their superstars! This time last year I would never have imagined being given this opportunity and was so grateful I had - I just wanted to make as much of it as i could.
We stayed in a 5-star hotel in downtown Chicago (have to get used to the American lingo now!) which was amazing. My favourite part was the TV at the end of the bath which had Sky Sports News - I used to sit and watch it every night!
At the training camp they split us up in to three teams, each day you would have a practice, a game and then a workout and you would do everything with your team.
My team had Keith, Versteeg, Byfuglien and Burrish from last year's Blackhawks line-up. Duncan Keith liked to chat with me quite a bit as his mum is from Tamworth in England and was talking how he has been over to visit and how he hopes to get his British passport so he can play for Great Britain (joking!)
Then, after a few days, they cut some guys and I managed to stay, they then split us up into two teams and the games became much more intense.
During the next game, I was playing against a line that consisted of Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews and Kris Versteeg. Being on the ice against these guys was ridiculous, I don't think we ever got the puck out of our zone. I did manage to do a little hit on Kane but then they went down and scored!
I'm now down in Rockford, the AHL team affiliated to Chicago, the team is very young and full of guys all hoping to make the Blackhawks.
So far the coaching has been very good, I have learnt so much in the short time I have been here already. They really place a lot of emphasis on doing the little things right and the little minor details, things like body and stick position. Especially as a defenseman, you dont have to be have super skills, but if you consistently do all these little things it will make you a solid player!
So far I have played two exhibition games for Rockford where I managed to score a flukey goal (they all count), two assists and wasn't on the ice for any goals conceded. But, more importantly, we also won both games!
Hopefully, I have done enough to impress to stick around on the Rockford team, but there is still a chance I could go to the ECHL, if that happens then I will just have to fight my way up back to Rockford.
Up until now I have been learning something new and feel every time I step off the ice I am a better player than when I stepped on and I've enjoyed every minute of it. Guys keep asking me if I'm going to be like the person from the movie 'Love Actually'?
My fingers hurt now but will keep you posted again during the next few weeks
PS: I have been in a hotel for over three weeks now and thinking about flying my mum over to come and wash my dirty underpants!!