It’s the culmination of a life in hockey that has taken in 19 World Championship campaigns, gold medals from Division IA (2018, 2023) and IB (2017), and pretty much every prize on offer in the British domestic game.
“You couldn’t write a better script,” he said as team GB partied on the ice after defeating Italy to seal promotion. “When we first went down last year, we put pressure on ourselves to get straight back up.
“We were excited for this all season. To come here and do it in front of our fans really is a fairytale ending.”
It’s typical of Phillips’ dedication to the GB cause that much of his motivation to lead Britain back to the elite was based on boosting the country’s emerging talents. They include Liam Kirk, the Coyotes prospect who is currently Britain's highest-profile player, but also the likes of Cade Neilson (21), Josh Waller (23) and defenders Sam Jones and Josh Tetlow (both 25). With high-level international experience in the past couple of years, these players are the foundation for Britain's longer term future.
“I think the future’s very big,” Phillips said. “That’s why we put such pressure to get back up there. We want these guys to be in the biggest window possible. They deserve it, they deserve a chance to be seen.”
That kind of ‘team first’ attitude explains why the captain is universally respected in British hockey. Despite spending the bulk of his career with Sheffield Steelers, bitter rivals of the Nottingham Panthers, his name reverberated around the streets of Nottingham as fans celebrated Friday’s promotion. Among his team-mates, the phrase 'great human being' crops up whenever the Cardiff-born captain is mentioned.
“He’s the definition of British ice hockey,” said forward Mike Hammond. “He puts it all on the line every night. An amazing captain and an amazing leader.”
Head coach Pete Russell, who has selected Phillips as captain for every tournament, added: “You could never replace him. He’s done so much for British hockey. I’ve known him for a long, long time, I’m going to miss him, we’re friends now. You don’t get many people like him, he’s an amazing guy.”
And Robert Dowd, a team-mate for club and country, admitted it would hard to adapt to a locker room without Jono’s presence: “He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met, and I’m going to miss him every day.”
Amid all the tributes, and the cascade of applause from GB’s fans as the promotion party kicked up a gear, it was an emotional moment for Phillips to say goodbye to the game.
“Seeing all this does make me think again,” he admitted. “It makes it a bit harder to retire, but even though I’d love to say ‘I’m not leaving’, I think this is the right way for it to end.
“Tonight is right up there with all the big nights we’ve had with GB – Budapest, Kosice. We’re honest, hard-working people and I honestly could not be more proud to be part of a group like this. This is really one of the proudest moments of my career.”
Life after retirement brings its own opportunities. For now, though, it’s a case of wait and see. “I don’t see myself coaching, that’s never really appealed,” he said. “But you never say never. Let’s see where the next few months take me.”
One destination in the next 12 months is likely to be Czechia for the 2024 World Championship. After years on the team, Phillips is excited about the future – albeit in a less hands-on role.
“Things really are looking good,” he said. “The young guys have been absolutely amazing this year. It’s been a pleasure watching them play, and I can’t wait to follow them next year as a fan.”