No sign of Sheffield Steelers’ Jonathan Phillips slowing down after EIHL milestone

THE result may not have gone as planned but Saturday at the FlyDSA Arena still proved a memorable evening for Sheffield Steelers’ captain Jonathan Phillips.

DON'T STOP ME NOW: Jonathan Phillips - during his 1,000th Elite League game. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

It seems every year or so in recent memory brings a new landmark occasion for the 37-year-old GB international, such is his longevity and ability to remain at the very top of his game.

This time, it was to mark his 1,000th Elite League appearance - the first player ever to reach the milestone - and the latest entry in a story of playing in the UK’s top flight which began back in the autumn of 2003 with his hometown team, Cardiff Devils.

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It is with the Steelers, however, that Phillips has enjoyed the majority of an illustrious career, lifting four EIHL regular season titles, along with as many play-off trophies - seven overall as captain.

Throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s visit from Coventry Blaze, former and current team-mates sent in their message of congratulations, while fans from all clubs – outside the top tier too – took to social media to voice their messages of goodwill.

As for Phillips, he was actually unaware of the achievement until somebody else at the club pointed it out to him at the start of last week.

And regardless of how long he has been playing - he started his senior career back in 1999 – there is no sign of him slowing down.

“To be able to do it with Sheffield for more than three-quarters of it, maybe even more, is huge for me,” said Phillips. “As a kid, Cardiff were a big team and they were winning trophies and then, all of a sudden, this new team from Sheffield came in and started dominating the leagues and playoffs and from a young age, as a 9-or-10 year-old, I knew what a big team Sheffield was.

Coventry Blaze player line up to congratulate Jonathan Phillips at Ice Sheffield on Saturday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“So to have ended up here all that time ago and be able to have played out the majority of my Elite League career here is special and something I’m very proud of.”

A pre-match presentation took place before face-off, after a highlight reel video was played out across the arena recalling the many EIHL highlights in Phillips’s career.

He admitted via his rarely-used Twitter account the morning after that the experience had been “surreal” but had provided another great memory for him.

Opponents Coventry also lined up to shake Phillips by the hand individually before face-off before ensuring his night ended on a slight down note when they ended Steelers’ four-match unbeaten league run by heading home to the West Midlands with a 5-3 victory.

Sheffield Steelers' owner Tony Smith presents a gift to Jonathan phillips for 1,000 Elite league games. Picture courtesy of Dean Woolley.

“For me, nothing has changed from when I was 23 or 24 and first came to Sheffield,” said Phillips. “It is literally just a case of taking it a season at a time. I don’t even think about stopping, I just keep going.”

And of the many triumphs he has enjoyed in South Yorkshire, Phillips recalls the first play-off trophy he lifted in 2008 - courtesy of a 2-0 win over Coventry - as the most special moment in the EIHL era. Just.

“Whenever you win a trophy you always think it is the best one and they are all special for different reasons but that first one sticks out perhaps just that bit more,” he added.

“I can remember as a kid going to Wembley and watching the Devils playing there, the playoffs was always a massive, massive event for me.

“So to be able to play in that final - I actually scored the game-winner too - was an extremely special moment as it was something I’d grown up wishing I could be a part of and then there I was there living it.”

On the ice, the Steelers bounced back from their failure to honour Phillips’s special night in winning style, by hitting the road to register a third victory in 16 days over Fife Flyers.

The 4-1 victory sees Steelers remain top of the regular season standings and while last night’s success in Kirkcaldy failed to reach the heights of the 10-3 triumph there on October 12, it was another polished performance by Aaron Fox’s team.

It was Robert Dowd who led the way all weekend for the Steelers, following up his two goals against the Blaze, by opening the scoring early on again in Scotland.

The Flyers levelled through Carlo Finucci with a short-handed strike at 22.46 but in the final 20 minutes, the Steelers proved dominant.

Nikolai Lemtyugov restored their lead at 41.31 before Dowd grabbed his second of the night just under five minutes later.

Lemtyugov then added his second with an empty-net strike in the last minute.

After the presentations on Saturday, it’s fair to say things didn’t go according to plan for Phillips and his team-mates against the Blaze, despite taking an early lead through Dowd.

Evan Bloodoff levelled on the power play before the visitors went ahead through Charles Corcoran at 11.19.

Dowd got his second of the night – also on the power play – at 18.30 and that was how it stayed until early in the third when Matt Pohlkamp made it 3-2 to Blaze.

The visitors doubled their lead less than a minute later through Bloodoff and although Lucas Sandström made it a one-goal game again with just over eight minutes remaining, that was as close as the hosts would get, Chris Pohlkamp ensuring a pleasant bus ride home for the visitors by adding an empty-netter with just two seconds left on the clock.