On Saturday, in the play-off semi final Jonathan Phillips will make his 682nd appearance for the Sheffield Steelers.
He will equal the all time Steelers appearance record presently held by his good friend Jason Hewitt – what an achievement for perhaps the most respected player in the EIHL.
On Tuesday the Steelers confirmed Phillips would return for a 12th season with the club, his 10th as captain. Already he has lifted more league title trophies and more play-off championships than any other captain in Elite League history, let alone Steelers.
Last Sunday we saw again Phillips' importance to the team and the club. Here was a Steelers team down and out. 5-2 down to be exact against a team that specialises in the short format competition. Yet it was Phillips who led in so many ways. As Captain his chest was out pre-game, making sure there was no negativity pre game, there he was killing the 5 minute penalty and Panthers power-play that could have, should have killed the tie in Nottinghams favour.
Yet more than that there was the Captain leading, scoring, short handed on that 5 minute Panthers power-play the goal that turned the two legged tie around in Sheffields favour. Cometh the moment, cometh the man.
Phillips knew what it meant to all of us watching on, sat on the edge of our seats, biting our nails. Look at the emotion he showed after scoring. This is the reserved Jonathan Phillips we are talking about. He couldn’t contain himself in the post-goal celebrations and rightly so. He knew that goal was the one that put doubt in the Panthers mind. He knew they were fragile, he knew the tie had turned.
Twenty-four hours after leading the team to perhaps their most remarkable victory Phillips collected the award at the Steelers Supporters Club end of season awards night for “Best British Player” - now Jonathan Phillips will be the first to admit that he isn’t the clubs best British player, he would concede that he doesn’t make the top two. Yet the fans in recent years have learnt to appreciate what incredible qualities Phillips possesses and brings to the team, the group dynamic.
In years gone by fans would say “but he doesn’t score as many as Dowdy” or “he isn’t as skilled as Benny” and of course they would be right, yet back then only those close to the team, close to the captain realised just how important he was to the core of the team. For whatever reason in recent years that is now more apparent. Thank god it is because he deserves the credit, he deserves the acclaim, he deserves the recognition that he is perhaps one of the most important players in the Steelers 26-year history.
Before the big goal on Sunday our supporters recognised that his efforts this year more than merited the award.
It is a guarantee that one day his shirt will hang in the rafters. It has too. More games, more games as captain, more league titles won, more play-off championships won and in my opinion the most respected player to ever wear the orange shirt.
Has Phillips a chance of setting a new all-time appearance record on Sunday, for that to happen the Steelers most beat the Belfast Giants in the evening semi-final. The Steelers and Giants were separated by by just one point in Belfast's favour over their eight-game regular league season series. The two teams are equally talented, equally stacked with quality and equally dangerous.
Momentum couldn’t be with the Steelers anymore than it is right now, coming off the back of that performance, that win on Sunday. I can’t imagine a team with more confidence. I take the Steelers to beat Belfast and set up a mouth-watering final against Cardiff Devils on Sunday afternoon. Cardiff will surely have too much for Dundee Stars coached by former Steelers favourite Mark Lefevbre.
In his testimonial year, in a game that will set a new all time Steelers appearance record could Phillip’s and the script writers have another special moment lined up for us?.