📝 by Patrick Williams
Stockton Heat forward Matthew Phillips is a realist.
“It’s not a great spot we’re in,” the Calgary Flames prospect said of the Heat falling behind 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals following last night’s 3-0 shutout by the visiting Chicago Wolves.
But Phillips is also an upbeat, positive presence in the Stockton dressing room, where he has been a fixture for the first four seasons of his pro career and serves as an alternate captain on a team with plenty of candidates for one of those letters. Phillips and the Heat intend to fight for their season.
“We lost two one-goal games in their building,” Phillips said of a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 1 and a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat in Game 2 in which Chicago forward Josh Leivo’s deciding goal came with 17.2 seconds remaining.
“And [Game 3] was a really close game again. So I think we’re still putting forward good efforts, and we just haven’t really been able to find that timely goal. But I think there’s still a lot of positives in our game. We’ll just have to tighten up a few things.”
Last night’s defeat gave the Heat three consecutive losses for the first time all season. Having now had three in-person looks at the Wolves, who edged out the Heat for the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the AHL’s top regular-season club, Phillips is rightfully impressed.
“I think they’re very smart with the puck,” said the 24-year-old Phillips, whose 68 points (31 goals, 37 assists) in 65 regular-season games led Stockton as well as placing him ninth in American Hockey League scoring.
“They seem to create time and space. They’re patient. They’re poised with the puck. So, when you’re checking them, if you give them a step, they’re good at finding passing lanes and creating speed and creating scoring chances.”
Phillips, who also has tacked on seven more points (three goals, four assists) during Stockton’s 10-game playoff run so far, is part of a deep Heat leadership group. Phillips joins captain Byron Froese, fellow alternate captain Kevin Gravel, and veterans including Nick DeSimone, Glenn Gawdin, Justin Kirkland, and Andy Welinski. Those players, along with the Stockton coaching staff, will be stressing that the Heat have more than kept pace with the powerhouse Wolves this series.
And at least the Heat still remain alive and eight wins away from the Calder Cup. It is a difficult path against the likes of Chicago, undoubtedly, but at least a path still exists.
So, Phillips says, they are not taking that opportunity lightly as they prepare for Game 4 on Friday night.
“This stings,” Phillips acknowledged after Game 3. “We’ve had a couple of tough losses, but that’s the playoffs, and we can’t change that now.
“The reality is that we’ve got an opportunity to lace them up and play Friday and put forth our best effort. It’s still a great opportunity we have. We’re one of the last four teams in the league playing, and we get to go out Friday and play, so we’re going to try to win that game.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports. He is currently the co-host of the Around the A Podcast.
Patrick was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.