Enjoying a few days of rest in Nashville, Phil Tomasino is in quarantine preparing to join the Predators to start the 2020-21 National Hockey League season. We caught up with the IceDogs Alum to reflect on the 52 days he spent with Hockey Canada’s World Junior team as he gears up to take the ice with the Preds.
Unlike the World Junior Championship preparation in years past, the Canadian team was together for over a month and a half. Despite the setbacks experienced through two different quarantine periods, the team took it as an opportunity to bond together. “It was different. Obviously, we had to go through a lot of adversity with the quarantine periods, but we made the most of it and had as much fun as we could.”
During the day, when Phil wasn’t at the rink for practice or team meetings, he could be found in the team lounge playing cornhole and ping pong or playing video games on his Xbox, which he brought from home in Mississauga. In the evenings, Hockey Canada organized team activities, like poker games, paint nights with Bob Ross or video calls with Canadian guest speakers, including a chat with Max Kerman from The Arkells and Brett Kissel.
The team got the opportunity to talk with Max before he played a small concert of songs, which included Relentless, the song featured in IceDogs’ 2019-20 regular season hype video.
With as much time as the Canadian team spent physically apart in Red Deer and the early days in Edmonton, they used the opportunity to bond. “During that time, we really came together as a group.”
In times as unique as these, something remained the same for Phil. Despite the distance between them, he was able to talk to his family, Manny and Shannon (parents) and Isabella (sister), several times a day and after each game. “With them not being in Edmonton, and only have the chance to watch the games on TV, I would still call them after games like I normally would. They’ve always supported me, and they’ve always been there for me, so with the extra free time, I talked to them a couple of times per day. We’re a close family, so it was nice to be able to talk to them often.” Before the tournament, each family was provided with a care package of jerseys, Canada accessories to feel closer to the games from home. Shannon made national headlines with a pair of socks gifted to her before Canada’s 3-0 quarterfinal win against the Czechs.
When asked if there were any particular players that he grew especially close to, Phil couldn’t pinpoint just one player. Despite having experiences playing with several of his teammates in the past, there was not just one particular guy he was closest to. “I think everyone was so close with each other that I can’t say just one guy. We were always together. The whole group was really close and really connected.”
The closeness of the team showed on the ice. When one player scored, it was as though the entire team was on the ice celebrating. By the end of the tournament, Canada had outscored its opponents 41-6. A significant goal margin like that happens when a team comes together to play for each other.
From the outset of camp, or even earlier in the Program of Excellence process, Hockey Canada instils the mindset of accepting the role you were given. Although Tomasino would typically be found on any other team’s top line, so would any other forward on Team Canada. Accepting a bottom six-forward role wasn’t to be seen as a demotion of any kind but rather a testament to how talented the team was. “I think Hockey Canada stresses the importance of accepting your role from the time you start with the U17’s until World Juniors. So, I think it’s always been our mindset ever since the summer camp in August, right up until the end of the tournament last week. Our motto was to accept your role.
“I’m used to being a top-six guy on my regular team, so it was different, but I think I performed pretty well. Especially our bottom-six forwards, we not only accepted our roles, but we did extra things to help our team win. We all bought in and pushed to be better. That’s what, I believe, really made our team so special. It’s always an honour to represent your country.”
Accepting and adapting to a new role, while important to team success, can be easier said than done. For Phil, this became especially important early, before the tournament started. As IceDogs fans, and Canadians alike, know, it’s not about how many minutes you play; it’s about what you do with those minutes. There was no one better to reiterate that to Phil than former Captain Akil Thomas.
“I didn’t really talk to a lot of people throughout the camp or tournament, but I talked to Akil before the exhibition game when I was scratched, against Russia. He had been through this tournament before, and he has been a great friend and mentor for me in the OHL. I figured I might as well give him a shout. I think the most important thing he told me was to take advantage of the opportunity like he did last year, that regardless of how much ice time you get to take advantage of the opportunity and do anything you can to help the team win. I think I did that. I think I played really well and that I took advantage of my opportunities.”
“Akil told me ‘don’t get too caught up in it, you’re going to get your opportunity, and when you do, you have to try to make the most of it.'” This is a mentality Tomasino will bring forward with him in his career.
As his time in quarantine comes to an end, Tomasino plans to carry the learning experiences he’s gained from the World Juniors tournament into his next opportunity with the Predators. “I think it’s a huge learning experience. It was nice to get back into game shape. Maybe I have a bit more game experience than a lot of guys here, so I want to use that to my advantage. I want to stick to playing my game. I feel like I can play in the NHL this season.”
“As long as I stick to my game and play with confidence, I believe I can compete here.”