The old play-by-play broadcaster looked at his family at the end of the red carpet as he made the walk to centre ice without noticing the wooden box on the ice in the Los Angeles Kings end.
Rod Phillips then looked up at the crowd, which was giving him a standing ovation, and waved and acknowledge them around Rexall Place.
He stood there as Wayne Gretzky offered a short message on the video board.
Then Kevin Lowe, the first Oiler drafted in the NHL and current president of hockey operations presented him with a 1983-84 Stanley Cup ring to complete his collection of five. He’d been given one, along with the players, in each of the other years.
Lowe somehow discovered that a few years ago and commissioned the making of the ring and saved it for the appropriate moment.
He didn’t see the big block letters hanging off the press box catwalk at the east end of the building spelling out “Rod – Voice of the Oilers.”
And he never once noticed that wooden box, which had been there for all those previous banner hangings.
Oilers CEO Patrick Laforge, after a few words, asked Phillips to turn around and look up.
And out of that box, rose another banner.
The number, of course, represented the number of games the Hockey Hall of Famer from Calmar broadcast in his incredible 37-year-career — although 3,542˝ would have been more accurate if you count that Stanley Cup Final game in Boston when the lights went out and had to be replayed from the beginning.
Phillips was properly staggered by the honour.
“Not a clue,” he said. “I was amazed.
“I started to cry out there.
“You just don’t expect that sort of thing.
“I’m just flabbergasted. I don’t know how to thank the Oilers for doing this. It’s forever.”
Jason Strudwick of the Oilers, who grew up in Edmonton listening to Phillips broadcast games on a radio in his bedroom before he went to sleep, and Ryan Smyth who 11 seasons in the league, took the ceremonial opening faceoff from the man of the moment.
Phillips was not given the opportunity to speak because of an eight-minute time limit the NHL gave the Oilers for the ceremony. But considering the emotions of the man who would leave the ice and proceed upstairs where he would call that 3,542nd game, maybe that was a good thing.
“My dad is a big teddy bear,” said daughter Quinn. “He couldn’t get through the whole banner raising for Wayne Gretzky – I
don’t think he would have managed to get through it for his own. I mean it was such a total surprise to him. He was just blown away by it. We all were. I looked around and everybody in the family was crying.”
Quinn and brother Devin were brought to the broadcast booth after the first period to make a
presentation, on behalf of 630 CHED of a NAIT Radio and TV Arts annual scholarship, but had to wait until most of the intermission to be able to do it.
You see, Rod Phillips always leaves the press box and goes down to the bathroom and relieves himself after the first period.
Picture the scene. The guy has just had a banner raised to the roof. And there he is, at a urinal, taking a leak with the rest of the fans.
Perfect. He belonged to them. For 37 years, as players came and players left, Rod Phillips was their guy.
The Voice worked his way through the game trying to do what he’s always done, make the game be about the game, not about the guy calling it.
But right to his last day the hockey gods continued to punish Phillips at the end of his career for what he was able to call at the beginning of his career.
It was an uninspired contest won 2-0 by the Kings.
Phillips didn’t even get a chance to shout “scooooooores.”
In the end, he kept it simple, as he said he would.
“This is Rod Phillips saying goodnight and Goodbye from Edmonton.”