Senior writer Michael Farber reports on the first player chosen
in last Saturday's NHL draft, in St. Louis.
As cameras zeroed in on Chris Phillips and his family, and
Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Gauthier prepared to
select him, the 18-year-old Phillips, an intense, two-way
defenseman from Fort McMurray, Alberta, turned to his mother,
Carol, and said, "I have to go to the bathroom."
"Who are you, Forrest Gump?" teased his older sister, Jennifer,
recalling Gump's moment of discomfort in the White House.
Laughter and humility have always been the principal currency of
a family that is warm, wise and wisecracking, valuable currency
considering the trouble the family has seen. In December 1988,
when Chris was 10, his mother was paralyzed by a spinal virus.
Two years later, after Carol had recovered sufficiently to get
around with the aid of a cane, her husband, Garth, lost 90% of
his eyesight because of complications from diabetes.
As dramatic as the changes were for their parents, Chris and
Jennifer were also thrown into their own uncertain
world--adulthood. They divided the chores: Jennifer did the
laundry and Chris fired up the barbecue, on one occasion
removing sausages from their casings before grilling them. "What
did I know?" he says. "I'd seen my mother take the plastic wrap
off the hot dogs."
But Chris was ahead of the game in other areas. In the fall of
'94, with Jennifer away at college, he stayed home with his
parents and played a second season at a lesser level of
competition rather than jump to major junior hockey with the
Prince Albert Raiders, 325 miles away. This was the path less
traveled to the NHL, but one that bespeaks a sense of
responsibility. "When a kid is young, you tell him what to do,"
says Garth, who compares his vision to seeing through smudged
glasses. "But if you keep telling him, how does he ever mature?
It was his choice to stay home."
The choice didn't hurt Chris in the eyes of the NHL, and his
10-goal, 30-assist performance in 61 games last season after
joining Prince Albert improved his standing. Carol and Garth
Phillips will also tell you Chris couldn't rate much higher as a