WRANGLERS REPORT: Is AHL Player of the Month Matthew Phillips closer to a call-up?

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Matthew Phillips is oblivious to the outrage.

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As he continues to make a plea—and a compelling one at that—for a call-up, the minor league scorer knows many Calgary Flames fans have battled on his behalf.

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He’s grateful for the support, flattered even, but he’s also determined to block the buzz. As long as he’s a farm clubber, that’s where his focus should be.

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“Obviously it’s a Canadian city that loves their NHL team and wants them to succeed, so people are going to have their opinions and stuff,” Phillips reasoned. “I mean, I want to be in the NHL too, so…

“But I just try not to think about it. Play here as best as I can, that’s all I can do.”

Can you do much better than a nod as the American Hockey League’s Player of the Month? The 24-year-old right winger was honored as such after racking up 18 points — nine notches and the same number of helpers — in a dozen November dates with the Calgary Wranglers.

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That news follows Monday’s player-of-the-week nod, an impressive double.

When Phillips boarded the flight to San Diego on Thursday, flip-flops packed for a two-game set against the Gulls, he led the loop in both goals (13) and total points (26).

“Obviously he’s played great hockey — the numbers speak for themselves,” said Wranglers coach Mitch Love during his weekly appearance on Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “Can’t say I’m surprised and can’t say I haven’t seen this before because he was pretty outstanding for us, night in and night out, in Stockton last year. But you can tell he has some swag in his game, some confidence, and it was a joy to watch. We need him to keep that up.”

There were plenty who hoped that Phillips wouldn’t go to San Diego this weekend.

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They’re ready to see what he can do in the Flaming C.

There is no questioning his skill or hockey sense, although some scouts question whether he is dynamic enough to attack the best defenders in the world. He just wants a chance to prove he can.

The blow, of course, is that he’s 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds. If you polled the Wranglers prior to one of their commercial flights, he would presumably be voted the teammate you’d most like to see in the middle seat.

Phillips has only logged one NHL appearance to date, a season-ending cleanup in May 2021, so he’s both underpowered and inexperienced, two words rarely used to describe Darryl Sutter’s dream lineup.

On the other hand, he has made a nightly habit of being the best player on the ice for the farm team and is putting up numbers that are impossible to ignore. In the AHL’s 72-game schedule, the fifth-year pro is currently on track for more than 50 goals and 100 points.

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“Usually when guys are in the minority and they’re focused on how to set themselves up rather than how to help the team succeed, it can kind of work against you,” cautioned Phillips, whose fall stats sheet lists five power play marks and four winning goals. “As long as you just focus on team objectives and team goals, I think everyone benefits.

“I feel like I’ve taken a good step. I’ve built up my resume and I think I’ve gotten better every season. I think I’ve shown what I can do, and I have a lot of faith in myself and my abilities .”

He also has quite a fan club. Many are adamant that this local kid – you may remember him with the Buffs or Bisons – deserves a look at the NHL level, urging that the Flames need to figure out what he has to offer before he qualifies as a free agent to skedaddle. A player-of-the-month award certainly won’t quiet the buzz.

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Until he gets that call, Phillips stays focused on his work with the Wranglers. After a slow start, the Herd has rolled to an 8-1-1 record in the past 10 games. It is no coincidence that their first-line right winger, who operates alongside Jakob Pelletier and Radim Zohorna, has been great on that stretch.

“He’s just a pro,” Love said of Phillips, an AHL deputy captain, during that radio interview earlier this week. “When you see him walking a practice day or a game day or a training session at the rink, it’s very businesslike. He is a serious young man who puts a lot of time into his profession. He spends a lot of extra time on the ice with his teammates and staff, working on his game, and I think he’s just a really driven athlete.

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“I read Twitter as much as anyone and see the buzz that’s out there right now about where his game is and what’s not, and I don’t think that really upsets him. He just goes about his business. He’s trying to be the best player for our group here and develop his game.”

REPORT WRANGLER

UPCOMING SCHEDULE

Friday – Wranglers at San Diego Gulls

Saturday — Wranglers at San Diego Gulls

December 9-11 – San Diego Gulls at Wranglers

WHO SHOT?

While Matthew Phillips was a worthy selection, Jakob Pelletier’s name must also have popped up during the player of the month deliberations at AHL headquarters. Pelletier is also scorching hot and has put together a streak of 10 game points. The 21-year-old left winger got seven goals and ten assists on that beautiful trajectory.

FAST FACT

Phillips and Pelletier lead the charge, but this is hardly a two-man offensive show. The Wranglers became the first 10-player AHL team to reach double digits this season. That list also includes forwards Connor Zary, Ben Jones, Cole Schwindt, Radim Zohorna, Emilio Pettersen and Brett Sutter, plus blue-liners Jeremie Poirier and Nick DeSimone.

wgilbertson@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

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