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Making his mark on the ice

SoVaNow.com / August 19, 2020
A Boydton 21-year-old, Caleb Phillips, has found his competitive passion in a sport not usually associated with Southside Virginia: ice hockey. And now, Phillips has found something else — a roster spot with a semi-pro hockey franchise, the Gaylord Snow. Phillips has signed a contract to play for the team beginning in November.

The Snow are based out of Gaylord, Mich. The franchise is a member of the Michigan Independence Hockey League.

Phillips said it’s been a long haul to make it to the hockey squad, but he’s glad he stuck with the sport. Phillips went up for the Snow’s tryouts Aug. 8-9.

When he finally signed with the Snow, Phillips was relieved and happy. He said he was more nervous than anything as the tryouts approached.

“I was just glad when it was over,” Phillips said with a laugh. “I was full of emotions when they asked me to sign, but more than anything just excited. It felt great.”

Phillips said when he arrived to the tryouts, the interview went well. The coaching staff told him if he could perform well the next day, he’d be asked to play and if not, oh well.

Overcoming some early jitters, Phillips settled in and played his game in the tryout session. His signing guarantees him a place on the Snow roster and a minimum of 20 games this season.

Though Phillips likes to get in his offense, his coaches told him after the tryout that he’d be better off in a defensive position to start his career. Phillips said he doesn’t really care, as having the opportunity to play on this level is the main factor.

The new semi-pro league is looking to bring more talent on the ice to the state of Michigan. Currently three other teams make up the league: the Muskegon Voyagers Hockey Club, Weal HC, and Holland Beacons Hockey Club.

The Snow have a tentative 2020-21 season schedule posted, although in Michigan and everywhere else, COVID-19 will play a hand in how the season unfolds.

Born Zhykharev Oleksiy Oleksiyovych in Kharkov, Ukraine, Phillips, now 21, was adopted at the age of two by Anne Crutchfield Phillips — who is also his manager and agent — and Steve Phillips, who took him in from an orphanage. Once they saw the infant boy, his mom said, “That was my baby.”

Caleb attended Clarksville Elementary School until the third grade. After that he was home-schooled.

Since coming to the U.S., Phillips has been involved in sports his entire life. When he settled in Boydton his parents immediately got him involved with the Mecklenburg County YMCA, little league football and baseball programs and various other rec league programs around the county.

“He started playing soccer at age two,” his mom said. Caleb added, “I also played baseball, basketball, did gymnastics, dance, roller hockey and ice hockey.”

Phillips really started to become involved with ice hockey after making the switch to home schooling. There was a rink down in Raleigh, N.C. that welcomed homeschooled kids to enjoy some fun and competition.

He soon entered a PeeWee hockey league and began the process of moving up in divisions. Once he turned 15, Phillips decided he wanted to concentrate on the sport.

“I joined the Carolina Eagles and that’s where things really started,” Phillips said. “We practiced at the rink down in Wake Forest.”

From there, Phillips moved on to play with the Hampton Road Whalers when he turned 18. The Whalers are members of the United States Premier Hockey League.

“The Whalers were a UA team and I wanted to move up to the Junior League but didn’t make it then,” Phillips remembered. “I aged out of The Whalers.”

Not one to be deterred, it wasn’t long before Phillips landed in Dallas, Texas playing with the Dallas Junior Stars. Some three months later he was traded to College Station Spirit in Texas.

Phillips and his mom said those were some challenging times during Phillip’s stay in Texas. “I really learned how to promote and just make phone calls and send video of Caleb playing to get other teams to look at him,” Anne said. “I learned you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to someone, you can do it yourself.”

Traded by choice to a team in Wyoming, Phillips would be there one month before those phone calls Anne made would pay off with an offer to play for the Hartford Junior Wolfpack in Connecticut. Phillips said he really excelled with the Wolfpack and improved his entire game.

Phillips finished up the 2019 spring season with the Wolfpack and then moved to Canada to finish up his career of junior sports. He enjoyed time with the Almaguin Spartans out of South River, Ontario and the Moskai Angels of the Canadian Premier Junior Hockey league.

Now that the young man whose life began in an orphanage has excelled to this point, he says he hopes he can encourage others to pursue their dreams in life. He’s even connected with his birth parents in the past year, finding out he has two older brothers and two younger sisters.

He noted his parents were totally supportive of him during that time. To honor his birth parents, his name on the team’s roster will be Caleb Oleksiyovych.

Phillips reports to camp on Nov. 1. The 5’10” 165-pound forward says he can’t wait to see what the future holds.

“It hasn’t been easy but it was worth it,” Phillips said. “I’m just ready to play hockey.”

You can keep up with Phillips by visiting the Gaylord Snow’s various social media accounts or visit https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/642113/caleb-oleksiyovych.





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