U SPORTS MHKY: How Phil Maillet’s time at UNB helped him to the NHL Playoffs

Vancouver, BC- Phillipe Maillet scored four points in his final game as a UNB Varsity Red, he lifted the 2017 U CUP alongside his teammates later that night. Three years ago, he never would have thought he’d be taking a shot at the Stanley Cup. In 2020, sequestered in a secure bubble in Toronto, ON, he’s getting that chance.

The 2017 U SPORTS Player of the Year signed with the AHL’s Ontario Reign right after winning his second U SPORTS championship and spent three high-scoring years with the California club before earning an NHL contract with the Washington Capitals in 2019.

Washington Capitals: 2019 expectations for Philippe Maillet

Maillet spent the entire 2019-20 season with Washington’s American league affiliate in Hershey, PA, but when COVID-19 hit North America, his team-leading season came to an abrupt end.

Although the AHL has not returned, the NHL has, and the former Red has earned himself a spot on the expanded roster of the NHL’s Washington Capitals.

In an expanded NHL post-season, the Capitals are facing fellow top seeds from the Eastern Conference in round-robin competition, before moving on to the traditional first round of the playoffs.

“If you told me when I was at UNB that I would be competing for the Stanley Cup in three years, I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” said Maillet to 49 Sports from the NHL’s Toronto bubble. He didn’t have the highest-scoring season of his pro career with Hershey in 2019-20, but the fact he was on an NHL contract, doubled with his 44 points in 61 games, earned him a spot on the expanded, 31-player playoff rosters.

Although Maillet is far from the first choice of player for the 2018 Stanley Cup champions, he’s preparing every day as though he’s getting ready to play, while also absorbing every moment of what he hopes to be a long playoff run. “I want to play, and I’m making sure I’m ready to go if I’m called upon. Not many guys get to make their NHL debuts in the playoffs, so if I get to, that’s pretty cool.”

The Capitals have been one of the most successful teams over the last decade, winning a Stanley Cup in 2018 and multiple President’s Trophies since 2010, but they’ve relied on a similar group of core players throughout their dominance. Maillet hasn’t been around for any of the success, but the culture of winning isn’t something that’s lost on him.

“The culture around the Caps is a winning culture, a lot like it was at UNB. There’s an expectation to win, but I’ve been in similar situations before and am ready if I get to play.”

Maillet with the U CUP (The Canadian Press)

His two U CUP championships gave him a lot of big-game experience, and the winning feeling he hopes to feel again on a greater stage. Maillet has often spoken highly of long-time UNB Head Coach Gardiner MacDougall, for instilling the winning culture in Fredricton, and he continues to think of his time at UNB while taking on the NHL.

While winning culture is important, it’s an intangible asset, you can’t see a winning culture, you feel it. However, there are many tangible lessons he took from UNB, things that could potentially make a difference in the closed-door NHL playoffs.

With COVID-19 continuing to encapsulate the world, the NHL is playing behind closed doors, away from fans. For better or for worse, this is an experience Maillet is familiar with through his time in U SPORTS. “At UNB we had great crowds, but in some of the other rinks, it was pretty quiet. It hasn’t been that long since I played in front of few fans, so maybe that’s an advantage for me,” said the 27-year-old.

Maillet won’t be handing his sticks to fans in Toronto

No fans, no problem, Maillet knows how to compete, something others may not have experienced since their days in junior hockey. U SPORTS has some great fanbases that pack arenas, but anyone who has watched the Canadian university game, knows many rinks are left lacking.

Although Maillet could make his NHL debut, he won’t be the only U SPORTS alum in the return-to-play, as Calgary Flames forward Derek Ryan played with the University of Alberta.

Through his time in U SPORTS, Phil Maillet became known as one of the country’s best collegiate players, and now, the two-time U CUP champion is getting his chance at hockey’s preeminent chalice, the Stanley Cup.

Cover Photo: Hershey Bears