Patrick Williams, Features Writer

The past six weeks have been a here-one-day, gone-the-next existence for Matthew Phillips.

Today – and for now, at least – he’s in the NHL with the Washington Capitals.

But the journey has taken the 25-year-old forward from D.C. to Pittsburgh to Hershey and, most recently, back and forth several times between the Bears and Capitals. Three teams in two leagues. Two waiver claims. A three-in-three weekend with Hershey, then up to the Capitals he went March 22. Back to Hershey two days later. A game against Providence last Tuesday with a promotion to the Capitals the following day. And so on and so on.

“It’s honestly been a challenging time,” Phillips admitted. “Being thrown into some new environments mid-season is definitely not easy, and the logistics of it, too, have been a little bit challenging, but that’s all part of pro hockey sometimes.

“I’m very happy to be here.”

Of course, “here” has meant different places on different days. But one thing that is certain is that Phillips will be a part of postseason hockey. The Capitals’ battle for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs continues, and should they qualify, Phillips will continue to be a lineup option. If not, the AHL-leading Bears could always use another top-flight weapon as they try to defend their Calder Cup championship through what will be another difficult gauntlet.

All of this upheaval has come after what had been a very steady run for Phillips, who had spent his first six pro seasons with his hometown Calgary Flames and their AHL affiliates in Stockton and Calgary. After a 36-goal season with the Wranglers in 2022-23, Phillips signed with Washington as a free agent, made the team out of training camp, and played 27 games for new head coach Spencer Carbery.

But after playing just one game in a six-week span, Phillips was placed on waivers Feb. 16, and Pittsburgh claimed him.

He made his Penguins debut on Feb. 18, skated in three games, and it was back to the waiver wire.

With the ability to have first claim on Phillips, the Capitals acted immediately and snagged him March 5.

The Caps’ move served several purposes. For one, it brought him back to the organization, where he could at least be a valuable recall option and a top-line player for the Bears. It also prevented the possibility of Phillips landing with Pittsburgh’s affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, a top rival for the Bears and a potential playoff opponent this spring.

Like any good player, Phillips is adept at self-reflection, and his extended NHL run provided him plenty with which to work.

“Something I’m always striving to accomplish is playing the NHL, and I learned a lot,” said Phillips, who played in just three NHL games during his time with the Flames. “I think my game is about my skating, moving my feet, using my skill set, and just trusting my game. I think that’s something that I let get away from me a little bit. But that’s the only way you can learn something – to experience it and make mistakes.”

Phillips debuted with Hershey on March 9 in Charlotte, picking up a goal and an assist. He found quick chemistry on the right side of a line with Pierrick Dubé and Jimmy Huntington, a trio that blends ample energy with high-end skill.

Bears head coach Todd Nelson has come away impressed by Phillips as well.

“We all know his size (5-foot-8, 160 pounds),” Nelson said after a chippy game against Syracuse on March 16. “But it was a rough game out there, and he kept on going at it. It speaks volumes of his heart and character.”

If and when Phillips is back with the Bears at some point, reconstructing that line could present plenty of problems for playoff opponents. And for Phillips, this could be another prime opportunity to pursue the Calder Cup. Reaching the conference finals with Stockton in 2022 left Phillips hungry for more playoff success. So did an epic fight with Coachella Valley last spring in the division finals.

Coming back to Hershey would mean chasing that Calder Cup that has eluded him so far.

“Honestly, when I found out the news that I was going to be coming to Hershey, I was disappointed for about an hour,” Phillips admitted, “and then you become very excited. The group is unbelievable here, tons of great leaders, and everyone contributes every night. It reminds me a lot of the Wranglers… I just see a lot of honest hard work. I see a lot of team-first things.

“Everyone can say that, but here you really see it. Everyone’s about the team, no matter what your role is. I think everyone is very encouraging, and nothing is taken for granted here. Everybody has the attitude that you need to earn everything, and I think that’s why this team surprised a lot of people.”

The Hershey dressing room is full of people with Calder Cup rings. Nelson himself has four of them. Phillips wants to join that elite group.

“There’s still a good chunk of guys, including myself, that would love nothing more than to achieve that,” Phillips said. “It’s something that I’ve been close to the last two seasons, gotten a really close taste of it.

“That’s something I’m very focused on accomplishing.”


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