Jonathan Phillips, Sheffield’s man for all Steeler seasons, is celebrating 10 seasons with the club.
His testimonial game, announced tomorrow, will be played in December, in a night featuring the likes of Jeff Legue and Joey Talbot.
Today the 611-appearance Steeler launches his testimonial year with a special Q&A for The Star:
When you started playing for Cardiff Rage in 1997, at 15, did you have any expectations of a long career?
As a kid you just want to play for as long as possible and at the highest level. But I never thought that nearly 20 years later I’d be living in Sheffield and have been a part of such great winning teams.
Steelers’ club was six years old at that time - a team with players like Tony Hand Ken Priestlay, Ed Courtenay, Scott Allison and Ron Shudra. What did you make of them?
They were great players to watch as a kid and were a big reason for Steelers’ Superleage dominance. But being a Cardiff boy I was a big Devils fan (back then.)
You were in the England junior set-up with a certain Jason Hewitt. What was that like?
I actually never played with him until I got to Sheffield. On the ice we hated each other. Phil Hill and I used to bully him and Mark Thomas when they were in Manchester (they’ll tell you different) but now they’re the best friends that anyone could have.
You had been at Cardiff, off and on, for eight years before moving to Sheffield. Why did you take the plunge?
It was something I felt I had to do to carry on improving as a young player. With Cardiff being my hometown I wanted to get out before I hit a comfort zone. It was tough as I have family and friends there but something I needed to do. So when Dave Whistle offered me a contract I jumped at the chance.
You left behind the famous/infamous Brad Voth...
He is a genuinely nice guy off the ice. Vother lived in an apartment in the middle of town so that was our local hangout for parties. He was invaluable as a team mate and would do anything for the team. Just like Zack Fitzgerald now.
There was also a Gerad Adams...
G was was a quiet leader who could explode at any second...but was as classy as they come. When we won the Challenge Cup in Cardiff, Mark Richardson’s father had just passed away and G sent Richie up to collect the cup.
You joined a Steelers team (2006-7) with some big characters: Dan Tessier, Ryan Finnerty, and Jody Lehman. Describe that first season...how did it go?
Dave Matsos was the coach and we were good friends from being Cardiff team mates. The team had changed quite a lot and the club was trying to build a new core of players. Lehman is a born leader and almost carried the team that year, holding people accountable. Finner came in just before Christmas and we formed a decent partnership and Tess was very gifted offensively. We started slow but put in a good run towards the end.
Rod Sarich was in his second year at the time with the club,,
Roddy was the most gifted D-man! He could play 40 minutes a night and pull things off only he could do. He could play as a power forward or an offensive defenceman. There was nothing he couldn’t do. He still pulls moves where you just sit back and think...wow!
Ervins Mutukovs was in goal in the 2010-11 season: what about him?
Moose was quiet..his English wasn’t great. I can remember laughing at him driving here from Latvia though. You could tell straight away that we had a hell of a goalie though.
Around that time, with Ben Simon in charge and Bob Phillips the owner, there was uncertainty about the club’s future. What is was like?
That was the hardest time over the last 10 seasons. The previous management had left, the players didn’t know what was happening and I spent the whole Summer on the phone trying to gather as much information as possible before players started to leave. But as soon as Ben was appointed he steadied everything and we just got on with the hockey and through that adversity we managed to win the League which is huge credit to Ben. He brought a new professional perspective to the club and the start of a new era.
The side had Kevin Bolibruck and Steve Munn: the best blueliners you’ve played with?
They are up there as the best. They were leaders on and off the ice. It’s easy to win with guys like Munner and Boli on your team.
When Steve Goertzen was handed the captaincy, you supported him 100%. But deep down, did it hurt?
No it didn’t hurt, a little weird at first but nothing really changed for me. Whether I have a “C” on my chest or not it wouldn’t change the way I play or act. If I was going to lose the “C” I’m happy it was to a player of Goertz’s calibre. He was a fantastic leader.
Last season: what was the defining moment?
It was that close we had to stay focused until the final buzzer in Fife. People wrote us off before Christmas but we’d done it the previous season and had the experience to do it again.
Finally, who is strangest personality to play for Steelers?
We’ve definitely had some weird ones but I would have to say Roddy Sarich. His sense of humour is so dry it can take you a day to understand what he said. He’s very humorous.
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