Close your eyes for a moment and think of your ideal Steelers captain. How would you imagine him?
Maybe 6ft 4in, rugged with four days of beard growth? He growls, patrols, roars. He is loud, a cheerleader who lifts his team.
If so, that’s probably about as far away as you could get from Jonathan Phillips, the present day and longest serving Steelers captain. And thank God for that because you wouldn’t want to change Phillips for the world.
The qualities of Phillips’ leadership became apparent again earlier this week when head coach Paul Thompson confirmed that the Steelers’ on-ice leader would be out for between four and six weeks, undergoing surgery on a double tear to his injured groin and a hernia.
Phillips hasn’t practised in recent weeks, such as been the pain. He has undergone injections before each of the last six games just to get him through. Once the painkillers have worn off, the Steelers captain has hardly been able to walk.
Why wait so long? Why not get this injury seen to earlier, I hear you call. Well, thats probably what you and I would do, which is another reason why we don’t captain the Steelers.
With the Steelers already having injury issues with Tyler Plante, Mike Duco, Robert Dowd, Colton Fretter and Levi Nelson over that period of time, Phillips wasn’t prepared to put himself in front of the team - he waited until the time was right for the club, his team and his teammates before heading to the operating theatre.
That’s how Phillips leads, by example. Not by being rough and rugged, not by being loud and a cheerleader. Jonathan Phillips is the softest spoken voice in the Steelers room, yet the most respected one.
Over the years in Sheffield he has witnessed good times and bad. He has never been a panickier when times were rough, and never been that cheerleader when winning trophies. It’s team first for Phillips. He is the only player hoping, praying that he never wins man of the match, as the thought of him having to do the ‘Eddy’ - the man of the match’s lap of honour - would embarrass him. He is happier surrounded by his team than thrust into public adulation.
A player with a problem on or off the ice goes to Phillips first. Phillips is a messenger from the team to the coaching staff. A trusted individual on both sides, his teammates and his bosses.
His players knew the pain he was in these past few weeks. He never sought special treatment, never wanted his situation discussed in public and in the media. Jonathan Phillips quietly, diligently and smartly goes about his business. Team first, duty first and he is one of the last ‘old school’ type of players. Respect is a massive issue for him. Respect of the club, the team and the players. Respect of the name Sheffield Steelers.
Phillips knows the duty, knows the pressure and the baggage that comes with Steelers captaincy. He knew three or four weeks ago that his club needed him, couldn’t be without him during that period.
Pain was just a bystander as he did what he thought best and played on. His coach appreciated his actions, his teammates did too. The Steelers are his club and that means our club.
Thank you Jonno... and hurry up back, will you.
Meanwhile, it’s Friday/Sunday hockey for the Steelers this week as they look to get back to winning ways.
Coventry visit the Arena on Friday before heading to war-torn Nottingham for another battle with the Panthers.
Thompson has started making his moves; out went Duco last week and in comes former NHL’er Guillaume Desbiens.
He boasts over 400 AHL games and is described by the Steelers coach as another leader and warrior. His resume suggests the same.
Zack Fitzgerald returns from suspension and Levi Nelson from injury. Thompson isn’t convinced Nelson has recovered from injury, but thinks he was bored at home and just wants to play.
Hockey players just want to play; they love it, they don’t sit out when they don’t have to. The summer is the time your bodies recover, they tell me.
Goalie Tyler Plante is back on the ice, Thompson wants him back sooner rather than later and has pencilled in next weekend for a return. The big man has been missed by us all.
He is doing double shifts in the gym as well as at home - you have to love these guys, don’t you.