Dave Phillips: The Start of Many British NHL Prospects?

Mark BatemanCorrespondent IJune 2, 2009

After claiming a bronze medal at the IIHF World Championships in April, it has been another summer of success for ice hockey in Great Britain.

There is now little doubt that the sport is enjoying more acclaim and is on the rise in a nation renowned for soccer, cricket, and rugby.

The medal success has seen the national team move into the top 25 teams in the IIHF World Rankings and domestically. Despite the recession, the Elite League (EIHL) and English Premier League (EPL) are gearing up for another exciting season. 

But the best news came this week when Belfast Giants defenceman Dave Phillips was offered the chance to sign for one of the biggest ice hockey teams in the world, the Chicago Blackhawks.

This, despite all the success in 2009, is the most significant moment in the recent history of the game in Britain, because it means that the NHL is finally sitting up and taking notice of British hockey and what young British players have to offer.

And 21-year-old Phillips is just one of many exciting British prospects being produced by EIHL and EPL teams.

The Beverley-born D-man started his professional career with the Hull Stingrays where, under the tutelage of coach Rick Strachan, he went from being an inexperienced rookie to an assistant captain inside four seasons.

Having made a name for himself, Phillips moved to Elite League rivals Belfast Giants to further his career and fulfill his ambition of winning trophies and had the best season of his career to date, scoring 10 goals and providing 25 assists in 71 games for the Northern Ireland club. He even captained the team for a spell.

Now Phillips will fly out to the Blackhawks summer prospects camp in early July, along with other minor league players and free agents.

The camp is being run by Mark Bernard, the general manager of the Blackhawks minor league affiliate team, the Rockford Ice Hogs.

Bernard played for many years in the United Kingdom and had a spell with the Bracknell Bees, where he played alongside Belfast Giants general manager Todd Kelman, before moving on to coach the Basingstoke Bison.

Bernard could start a new influx of NHL interest in Britain, with Phillips and several other players not being far off the NHL standard.

Ice hockey in Great Britain is improving year by year and bringing British players to the NHL is the next step in the development of the game in the United Kingdom.