Tommy Phillips

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Tommy Phillips
Hockey Hall of Fame, 1945
Cropped image of the head of a man in his early 20s, wearing a wool sweater, staring just past the camera
Born (1883-05-22)May 22, 1883
Rat Portage, Ontario, Canada
Died November 30, 1923(1923-11-30) (aged 40)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Height 5 ft 9 in (175 cm)
Weight 168 lb (76 kg; 12 st 0 lb)
Position Left Wing
Played for Vancouver Millionaires (PCHA)
Edmonton Professionals
Ottawa Hockey Club (ECAHA)
Kenora Thistles (MHL)
Playing career 1900–1912

Thomas Neil Phillips (May 22, 1883 – November 30, 1923) was a Canadian professional ice hockey left winger. Like other players of his era, Phillips played for several different teams and leagues. Most notable for his time with the Kenora Thistles, Phillips also played with the Montreal Hockey Club, the Ottawa Hockey Club, the Toronto Marlboros and the Vancouver Millionaires. Over the course of his career Phillips participated in six challenges for the Stanley Cup, the championship trophy of hockey, winning twice: with the Montreal Hockey Club in 1903 and with the Kenora Thistles, which he captained, in January 1907. Following his playing career, Phillips worked in the lumber industry until his death in 1923.

One of the best defensive forwards of his era, Phillips was also known for his all-around skill, particularly his strong shot and endurance, and was considered, alongside Frank McGee, one of the two best players in all of hockey. His younger brother, Russell, also played for the Thistles and was a member of the team when they won the Stanley Cup. When the Hockey Hall of Fame was founded in 1945, Phillips was one of the original nine inductees.

Life and playing career

Early life

Phillips was born in born in Rat Portage, Ontario, on May 22, 1883, the youngest of three children, to James and Marcelline Phillips.[1] James Phillips, who was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, on October 14, 1822, had trained as a stonemason and immigrated to Canada to help build railways.[2] He had a son and two daughters from a previous marriage. On April 30, 1877 he married Marcelline (née Bourassa), a native of Buckingham, Quebec. Their first child, a son named Robert, was born in 1878, followed by a daughter, Margaret, in 1879; both were born in Ottawa. In 1882 James accepted a job in Western Ontario as superintendent of construction for the Canadian Pacific Railway transcontinental rail line, and the family moved to Rat Portage, near the Ontario border with Manitoba.[1] Here a fourth child, Russell, was born in 1888. Russell would also play hockey, winning the Stanley Cup with Phillips in 1907.[3]

As a young child Phillips learned to play hockey, and by 1895 he had joined the Rat Portage Thistles junior club, a team of players mostly aged 12 to 16. Phillips helped the team win the 1895–96 intermediate level championship of the Manitoba and Northwest Hockey Association.[4] By 1899–00 Phillips had joined the senior Thistles team, and would be named captain the following season, when they won the senior league championship.[5] Phillips immediately earned praise for his endurance: in an era when players played the entire match and would often coast to conserve energy, Phillips could play at a fast pace the entire game, with a posthumous newspaper report stating that he "could play for an entire 60 [minutes] at full speed and be as fresh at the end as he was at the start."[5] His skill was already evident at the time, with the Rat Portage Miner praising him as one "of the best cover-points in the west, being a swift shot, a high lifter and a heavy check."[5] A forward when he joined the senior Thistles, Phillips played cover-point for the 1900–01 season, before moving to left wing in 1901–02; he largely remained in that position for the rest of his career.[6]

Regarded as one of the best players in Northwestern Ontario, Phillips moved east to Montreal in September 1902 to study electrical engineering at McGill University.[7] He joined the university's hockey team, which had just moved to a new Canadian university league, and was immediately named captain.[7][8] Phillips only played one match for McGill, on January 23, 1903, against Queen's University; McGill lost 7–0.[9] Days after the game the Montreal Hockey Club asked Phillips to join them for their Stanley Cup challenge series against the Winnipeg Victorias. This required the approval of the other university clubs, which agreed on the condition that Phillips end his McGill career, which he did.[10] Montreal won the series; Phillips finished third on the team in scoring with six goals in four games.[11] Phillips also earned praise for his defensive play, particularly his ability to stop Tony Gingras, one of the top players on the Victorias.[10]

Later in 1902 Phillips moved to Toronto to attend the Central Business School. He joined the Toronto Marlboros and, after changing positions to rover, was regarded as the team's best player.[8] The Marlboros won both the Toronto city and the Ontario Hockey Association senior championships, and felt confident enough with Phillips on the roster to challenge the Ottawa Hockey Club for the Stanley Cup.[12] The Marlboros lost the series; Phillips had the most assists, though also the most penalty minutes of any player in the series, with eight and fifteen, respectively.[13] He was also regarded by Ottawa reporters to be by far the best player on the Marlboros, with one saying he was "much too fast a man for the company in which he is travelling."[14]

Kenora and Ottawa

Seven men apparently in their 20s pose for a half-length group photo. They are wearing formal suits and ties.
The Kenora Thistles posing for a photo in 1905–06. Phillips is in the middle of the photograph.

Phillips moved back to Rat Portage in 1904 when he learned his father was dying. Offered a job with a lumber company, and a C$1,000 bonus to play hockey for the Thistles, he stayed in the city, much to the disappointment of the Marlboros, who had wanted him to stay in Toronto.[8][15] Rat Portage was amalgamated with neighbouring towns in 1905 and was renamed Kenora.[16] Due to their proximity to Manitoba, the Thistles played in the Manitoba Hockey League. In the 1904–05 season Phillips had the second-most goals on the team and in the league, with twenty-six, two fewer than Billy McGimsie.[17] The Thistles won the Manitoba league championship, allowing them to challenge for the Stanley, held at the time by the Ottawa Senators. By this time Phillips was regarded as one of the best players in Canada, equal to Frank McGee of the Senators. The Montreal Herald reported that "nine out of ten people will reply that either Frank McGee or Tom Phillips is" the best player in the country.[18] In the first game of the challenge series against Ottawa, Phillips scored the first two goals, then added another three in the second half of the game as the Thistles won by a score of 9–3.[19] Ottawa won the second game, 4–2, while Phillips was held pointless. In the third and deciding game of the series, Phillips scored a hat trick, including the first of the game, although Ottawa won the game 5–4 to retain the Cup.[20]

The Thistles won the Stirling Cup as champions of western Canada in the 1905–06 season, which allowed them the right to challenge for the Cup again, since won by the Montreal Wanderers. There was an early spring that year, and with natural ice used at the time, the series had to wait until the following winter.[21] In the 1906–07 season, Phillips led the league in goals, with eighteen.[13] In the first game of the Thistles' successful two-game, total-goal Stanley Cup challenge against the Wanderers in January 1907, Phillips scored all four goals in the Thistles' 4–2 victory;[22] he followed that up with three goals in the second game, an 8–6 victory, giving the Thistles a 12–6 win. A two-game rematch two months later saw the team lose; Phillips' nine goals, and sixteen penalty minutes led both categories.[13]

An early ice hockey team poses for a photo. Eight players, all seated around a trophy on a pedestal, are dressed in wool sweaters with a thistle emblem. They wear skates and hold ice hockey sticks. Behind them stand four men in suits.
The Kenora Thistles posing for a photo with the Stanley Cup in 1907. Phillips is in the middle row, third from the left.

Prior to the start of the 1907–08 season, he was offered between $1,500 and $1,800 to play for the Wanderers, but instead signed with the Ottawa Senators for a salary of $1,500. Phillips explained that he was ready to sign with the Wanderers, but the contract he received did not include everything promised.[23] In signing with Ottawa, Philips rejoined Harry Westwick and Alf Smith, who had both joined the Thistles for their Stanley Cup defence in March 1907.[24] It also likely made him the highest paid hockey player in Canada.[25] He finished the season with twenty-six goals, two behind the scoring leaders, his teammate Marty Walsh and Russell Bowie of the Victorias.[26]

Western Canada and later life

Though offered a high salary to stay in Ottawa, Phillips decided to leave the team, and prior to the 1909 hockey season joined the Edmonton Hockey Club of the Alberta Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA).[26] The Edmonton team had signed several high-profile players from Eastern Canada to play for the team in the Cup challenge; only two players on the team were from Edmonton, with the rest coming from the east.[27] Phillips and Lester Patrick, another player from the east, never even reached Edmonton; they met their team in Winnipeg on its way east for the Cup challenge.[28] Phillips, who was paid $600 for the two-game series, played in the first game against the Montreal Wanderers, which Edmonton lost 7–3, but broke his ankle and was forced to miss the second game, a 7–6 Edmonton win.[28]

Over the summer Phillips was invited by Patrick to move to Nelson, British Columbia, where the latter was putting together a club of star players to challenge for the Cup.[29] He played in 1909–10 with the local team, retiring after the season and taking a position as a manager of a lumber company in Vancouver. When Patrick and his brother Frank formed the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) in 1911, Phillips was convinced to come out of retirement and join one of the teams in the new league, the Vancouver Millionaires.[30] Phillips finished the 1912 season fourth on Vancouver in goals, and seventh overall in the league, with seventeen in fourteen games.[31] Phillips, who realized that his skills had diminished, retired for a second time at the end of the season.[32] A close friend of the Patricks, he remained close to the league, and occasionally officiated matches after his retirement.[33]

After retiring from hockey Phillips ran his own lumber company Timms, Phillips and Company and later moved to Toronto in 1920.[34] Phillips died of blood poisoning at the age of 40 in his residence at 19 Edgewood Crescent, five days after having an ulcerated tooth removed. He was survived by his widow Ella and three children: Margery, Mary and James.[35] Phillips was a member of Rosedale Community Church and a Freemason.[34] He is buried at the Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora, with Ella, who died in 1964.[36]

When the Hockey Hall of Fame was founded in 1945, Phillips was inducted as one of the first nine inductees.[37] He was also inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.[38]

Career statistics

    Regular season   Stanley Cup Challenge Games
Season Team League GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
1899–00 Rat Portage Thistles MNWHA
1900–01 Rat Portage Thistles MNWHA
1901–02 Rat Portage Thistles MNWHA 9 7 0 7 7
1902–03 McGill University Redmen CIHU 1 0 0 0
1902–03 Montreal AAA CAHL 4 6 0 6 4 3 0 3
1903–04 Toronto Marlboros OHA 4 5 0 5 21 4 7 8 15 15
1904–05 Rat Portage Thistles MHL 8 26 0 26 3 8 0 8
1905–06 Kenora Thistles MHL 9 24 0 24
1906–07 Kenora Thistles MHL 6 18 0 18 6 13 0 13 25
1907–08 Ottawa Hockey Club ECAHA 10 26 0 26 40
1908–09 Edmonton Hockey Club Exhib 1 0 2 2 3 1 1 0 1 0
1909–10 Nelson Hockey Club WKHL
1911–12 Vancouver Millionaires PCHA 17 17 0 17 38
CAHL totals 4 6 0 6 4 3 0 3
MHL totals 23 68 0 68 9 21 0 21 25
ECAHA totals 10 26 0 26 40
PCHA totals 17 17 0 17 38


  1. ^ a b Zweig 2012–2013a, p. 11
  2. ^ Zweig 2012–2013a, pp. 10–11
  3. ^ Danakas & Brignall 2006, p. 73
  4. ^ Not to be confused with the league of the same name that existed in 1903–04; Zweig 2012–2013a, p. 13
  5. ^ a b c Zweig 2012–2013a, p. 13
  6. ^ Zweig 2012–2013a, p. 15
  7. ^ a b Zweig 2012–2013b, p. 18
  8. ^ a b c Zweig 2007
  9. ^ Zweig 2012–2013b, pp. 23–24
  10. ^ a b Zweig 2012–2013b, p. 24
  11. ^ Coleman 1964, pp. 77–80
  12. ^ Harper 2013, p. 51
  13. ^ a b c Diamond 2002, p. 622
  14. ^ Harper 2013, pp. 53–54
  15. ^ Danakas & Brignall 2006, p. 38
  16. ^ McKinley 2009, p. 51
  17. ^ Danakas & Brignall 2006, p. 39
  18. ^ Jenish 1992, p. 53
  19. ^ Danakas & Brignall 2006, pp. 44–45
  20. ^ Danakas & Brignall 2006, pp. 55–58
  21. ^ Danakas & Brignall 2006, pp. 66–68
  22. ^ Weir, Chapman & Weir 1999, p. 73
  23. ^ Kitchen 2008, p. 159
  24. ^ Lorenz 2015, p. 2097
  25. ^ Lappage 1988, p. 93
  26. ^ a b Kitchen 2008, p. 160
  27. ^ Jenish 1992, p. 74
  28. ^ a b Jenish 1992, p. 75
  29. ^ Nesteroff 2011
  30. ^ Bowlsby 2012, p. 12
  31. ^ Bowlsby 2012, p. 25
  32. ^ Coleman 1964, p. 635
  33. ^ Bowlsby 2012, p. 233
  34. ^ a b "Obituary: Thomas Neil Phillips". The Globe and Mail. December 1, 1923. p. 3.
  35. ^ "Former Star Hockey Player Passes Away". Toronto Star. December 1, 1923. p. 12.
  36. ^ "Thomas Neil "Tommy" Phillips". Find-A-Grave. Retrieved December 1, 2019.
  37. ^ Zweig 2012–2013b, p. 24
  38. ^ Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame 2010


  • Bowlsby, Craig H. (2012), Empire of Ice: The Rise and Fall of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, 1911–1926, Vancouver: Knights of Winter, ISBN 978-0-9691705-6-3
  • Coleman, Charles L. (1964), The Trail of the Stanley Cup, Volume 1: 1893–1926 inc., Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing, ISBN 0-8403-2941-5CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Danakas, John; Brignall, Richard (2006), Small Town Glory, Toronto: James Lorimer & Company, ISBN 978-1-55028-961-9CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Diamond, Dan, ed. (2002), Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League, Second Edition, New York: Total Sports Publishing, ISBN 1-894963-16-4CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Harper, Stephen J. (2013), A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs & The Rise of Professional Hockey, Toronto: Simon & Schuster Canada, ISBN 978-1-4767-1653-4CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Jenish, D'Arcy (1992), The Stanley Cup: A Hundred Years of Hockey at Its Best, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 0-7710-4406-2CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Kitchen, Paul (2008), Win, Tie, or Wrangle: The Inside Story of the Old Ottawa Senators 1883–1935, Manotick, Ontario: Penumbra Press, ISBN 978-1-897323-46-5CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Lappage, R.S. (1988), "The Kenora Thistles' Stanley Cup Trail", Canadian Journal of History of Sport, 19 (2): 79–100, doi:10.1123/cjhs.19.2.79
  • Lorenz, Stacy L. (2015), "'The Product of the Town Itself': Community Representation and the Stanley Cup Hockey Challenges of the Kenora Thistles, 1903–1907", The International Journal of the History of Sport, 32 (17): 2078–2106, doi:10.1080/09523367.2016.1149167
  • McKinley, Michael (2009), Hockey: A People's History, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 978-0-7710-5771-7
  • Nesteroff, Gret (May 26, 2011), "Nelson's Stanley Cup challenge", Nelson Star, Nelson, British Columbia, retrieved November 2, 2017
  • Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame (2010), Tommy Phillips Page,, retrieved May 27, 2010
  • Weir, Glenn; Chapman, Jeff; Weir, Travis (1999), Ultimate Hockey, Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, ISBN 0-7737-6057-1
  • Zweig, Eric (January 15, 2007), "Thistles still stick together", Toronto Star, Toronto, retrieved November 2, 2017
  • Zweig, Eric (2012–2013a), "Au Revoir, Rat Portage: The Early Days of Tommy Phillips", Hockey Research Journal, 16: 9–17
  • Zweig, Eric (2012–2013b), "Bonjour Montréal", Hockey Research Journal, 16: 18–25

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