Phillips dishes it out

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

The Big Rig stands wearing a golf shirt, shorts and sandals in front of 30 Senators prospects in the team's meeting room at Scotiabank Place and at this time, before these young men, his shadow has never cast longer.

Eleven years. Six-hundred and ninety-nine games. And status, immense status, as one of the NHL's top defensive defenceman.

"Unreal," second-round pick Patrick Wiercioch says later of the speaker he listened intently to midway through Day 3 of the Senators' development camp. "This is a guy you watch. When he said he's been in the league 11 years ... to think, I just want one game."

An awe-inspiring individual indeed, yet only moments before addressing the small crowd, Chris Phillips admits he is nervous about the task at hand.

"It's not exactly my forte," says Big Rig.

Public speaking isn't what Chris Neil does best, either, but witnesses still talk about the impressive, emotional sermon he delivered in the same spot a year ago. Chris Kelly is better with one-liners and before condensed groups, but it's said his words carried similar weight two springs ago. If you'll remember, Kelly wasn't always a multimillion-dollar player worthy of a four-year contract. He wasn't always a "core member" of the team, as Daniel Alfredsson calls him now. There was a day when he was simply a skinny, third-round pick with a longshot's chance of making it to the NHL. Now he's an E.F. Hutton on the subject of chasing a goal. When he talks about it, people should listen.

Phillips, meanwhile, clearly was able to check his jitters at the door. The Senators don't generally allow members of the media to sit in on any type of team meeting, but their concession in this case allows yours truly to say this:

When he does hang up the blades, No. 4 would make a fine teacher, or coach, or politician. His is the style and voice of a leader.

"You should all feel extremely honoured, if for nothing more than to be sitting there in the underwear you have on now, with the Ottawa Senators logo," Phillips began. "We take a lot of pride in that logo."

Phillips spoke of his first training camp, which he attended three months after the Senators had selected him first overall in the 1996 draft. A confident 18-year-old, he expected to make a team that was coming off a 18-59-5 finish.

"Management didn't see it the way I did," Phillips said of being returned to the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. "I was pissed off, basically."

The following fall, he stuck, only to be used by then-coach Jacques Martin as a winger.

"I played a couple of hundred games at forward, and I had never played forward before," he said. "It was a very humbling time. It's humbling to pay your dues. But you just have to work hard, keep your mouth shut and try to earn the respect of the older guys on the team."

At that time, it was the likes of Randy Cunneyworth and Kevin Dineen. Now Phillips is in the shoes they wore then.

"I've been here a long time and I've loved every minute of it," said Phillips. "It's a first-class organization.

"Work your ass off, keep your mouth shut and things will fall into place," he advised. "I don't mean when you come to camp. It starts right now. You have to show everybody what you're capable of doing. There's always somebody watching. Just because there's not enough places for everybody, you don't want to say a couple of years down the road that you wished you worked harder. You can't hold back anything.

"We want guys that will do anything for the team. We've had skilled guys before that you wished would have played hard every night. If they had done that, we'd probably have a Stanley Cup banner hanging out there now.

"You defenceman, don't look at the roster and say, 'Well, they've already got their six or seven guys that will be here, and Binghamton already has their six or seven guys. I don't have to work that hard because I'm not going to make it anyway ...' F--- that. I want you to come in here and try to take my job."

Phillips went on to explain how that can happen, with the economics of today's NHL. If a player with an entry-level contract performs well enough, the team will move the big-money guy that does the same job. That's the reality of the situation.

"It's tough and fun at the same time," he said of being in a hockey market like Ottawa. "You walk around the streets and everyone is an armchair coach. They want to let you know what you should be doing, or what the team should be doing. As hard as it is sometimes to shrug off, it shows they care. Walking down the streets, when people recognize you, it makes you feel good about being a Senator. You're proud to be a Senator."


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