Phillip Power doesn’t remember a time Hockey Night in Canada wasn’t a big deal in his household. His earliest memory comes from when he was about 4-years-old. “In 1999, the Leafs made it to the Eastern Conference Final. My mom completely decorated our Dodge Grand Caravan in blue marker. It was crazy.”
Now in his 6th year at UTM, Phillip Power works towards completing a double major in History and Political Science, while playing right wing for UTM’s d-league men’s hockey team.
Power was born in Brampton, Ontario before moving to Caledon when he was 13. He says the move from a suburban setting to a rural was a bit different. “I have friends in Toronto who still don’t have driver licenses. Even the poorest person in Caledon has a car. You can’t really do life without one in such a rural area. There’s no transit system,” says Power.
However, like many Canadian towns, hockey is a big deal in Caledon. “It’s cultural. I know people who are associated with hockey. They put their kids in hockey. They played hockey themselves growing up. And then when you talk to them they don’t really know anything about hockey. Hockey is like a cultural unifier. But I enjoy the sport for the sport itself,” he says.
Power is the second in his family to have played hockey, the first being his grandfather. His father loved the sport growing up, but due to financial constraints was never given an opportunity to play.
The Powers are nuts about hockey. Hockey night in Canada is a family affair. “We buy beer, pizza, and even burritos now, or some kind of junk food. Every Saturday night we sit down, watch the Leafs. On the rare occasions the Leafs aren’t playing, it just isn’t the same. It’s like ‘what do we do?’”
Like most children who come from hockey loving families, Power was in skates and on the ice almost as soon as he was able to walk. At 3-years-old he began learning how to skate. And by 5 he was playing in his first hockey games with Tim Horton’s Timbits Hockey. Power proved to have talent for the game, making the AA team, the second highest level of competitive minor league hockey by the time he was 6. “I got involved [in hockey] in the first place because it was just so natural. It was just what you did. You played hockey. My Dad said, ‘Look if he doesn’t like hockey, I’m not going to force him to play hockey. But I am going to force him to try it.’”
Power continued to play competitively until he was 15-years-old. Hockey had become his life. “There was no alternate reality where I wasn’t doing this. Playing hockey.,” he said. There were a couple accomplishments that solidified his love for the game. The first came when he was 6, playing for his AA team. “There were two of us on the team that hadn’t scored yet all season. I was one of them. I remember our coach coming into the locker room and hyping us up. And later I remember standing on the ice in front of the net. The puck came to stick. I shot it, and it went in top corner. I just stood there bewildered that the puck went into the net.”
The second accomplishment came when he was 13, at a hockey tournament in the U.S. with his team, the Vaughn Panthers. They played on the Olympic ice rink of the Placid Olympic Center. They came first place at the tournament, and Power was awarded Most Valuable Player. “I didn’t think I was going to win it. I remember thinking my friend, Daniel, was going to get it. He’d played a great tournament and I was so pumped for him. I was blown away when they announced my name.” Power credits one more experience that solidified his love for the game: when he retired from serious competitive hockey at 15-years-old.
Being 15-years-old is a pivotal time in a young hockey player’s life. The summer after this year is where young athletes can be selected to play in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) or you could sign a junior contract, which is like the OHL but a lower level. Aspiring athletes at either of the aforementioned levels can still make it to the NHL. At 15, a lot of players drop off. “The dream is dead. You know you’re not going to the NHL. Almost certainly that you’re not going to,” says Power. Ultimately, it’s ether you get your shot, or you don’t.
Power had the opportunity to sign a contract with a Junior B hockey team. He and his mom were on their way to sign his contract when something changed. “My mom can always tell when something’s up. She asked me if I was okay, what was going on. I told her I didn’t think I could do this [hockey] anymore, and she asked me if I was sure. She said okay and turned the car around.” Power’s parents were supportive in his decision to pursue an opportunity in a hockey career, and his decision to decline it.
The following year he made the decision to just play House League hockey, a lot less competitive. “I didn’t believe I was going to enjoy it. I knew it wasn’t going to be that competitive, that there would be a lot of guys feeling out the game, learning how to play. But I still loved it,” Power came to realize that he could love hockey in a different way. Not just for the competitiveness, but for what it is.
With a bit of a break from the sport he’d been playing since he was 5-years-old, Power chose to focus on school. It was his parent’s expectation that he’d go to university. It wasn’t up for debate. “I didn’t know what University was. I had to look it up. I found out about the University of Toronto. I looked at all the pictures online, of all the campuses. It was beautiful, and I decided I wanted to go,” he said. “I told my dad I wanted to go to U of T, and he said, ‘with your marks, you’ll be lucky to get into York.’” Phillip’s father had a point. He didn’t have the strongest grades, averaging in the 60’s in most of his classes. He worked hard, and got into UTM. Although Power wishes he’d at least considered other schools, like Queens or Carleton, he doesn’t regret his final decision. “The opportunities I’ve had here at this school, are ones I’d never thought I’d ever do.”
Power considers himself a fan of good hockey, before any team or player. “My favourite team has changed over the years. I’ll find a team and really latch on to how they play. Right now, it’s the Leafs. I grew up watching them, but right now they’re good. They’re just good. It’s a such a great time to be a hockey fan and a Leafs fan right now.”
Growing up, Power looked up to Steve Yzerman, former player of the Detroit Red Wings. His second favourite is Ryan Smith, who played for the Edmonton Oilers. “I’ve always kind of played like Smith and saw myself in him. He was a two-way forward with the ability to make plays,” says Power. He also looks up to his father, especially for his work ethic. “If you ever need to do something, that you think is impossible—ask my dad,” says Power.
Power is the Assistant Captain of UTM’s men’s d-league hockey team and he takes pride in wearing the capital-A on his jersey. He considers himself to be one of the leaders on his team, a mature presence both on and off the ice. But he also sees himself as the one who tries to bring everyone together. “I try to help create the social bonds, by pushing us to do social events. We don’t do it often, once or twice a year, but we never did it when I was a first year. It makes us stronger. It makes us actual friends. It makes you actually like the guy you’re playing with which makes a lot of other things easier,” says Power.
Power loves UTM and doesn’t think people give the school enough credit. “We get called the ‘St. George Rejects’, and I know it’s in jest. But I don’t think people appreciate this place, and what it means. Everyone knows everyone, it’s like a very big high-school in the best sense. And playing for the team here is a chance to represent that. To get the name out there, to a wider world that either doesn’t know about us or makes fun of us.”
UTM’s d-league men’s hockey team take to the ice on March 20th, where they face UTSC at Varsity Arena for the D-League Championship.