Embracing the Climb
A handful of times, Richmond, British Columbia native Glenn Gawdin has scaled Grouse Mountain.
To reach the peak that overlooks Vancouver, climbers and hikers have to withstand the 'Grouse Grind,' a climb just shy of two miles and a hair north of 4,000 feet in elevation gain. Among the hurdles to leap along the way, just like with any climb, are false summits - spots that look like you've reached the peak as you approach it only to find out you still have a ways to go when you get there.
Heading into this weekend, Gawdin is a point away from gaining sole possession of the top spot in Stockton Heat career scoring, currently tied at the top with 109 points to his credit. His resume is quickly filling out in the midst of his fourth professional season, including an all-star nod in the 2019-20 season and a NHL debut in 20-21, but he knows that even when his name hits the top of the charts in the Flames' farm team's record book, it's not the peak he's aiming to reach.
"You have to take a minute to accept and enjoy the accomplishments," said Gawdin when asked about the significance of inevitably reaching that top spot. "Points are whatever. We're trying to get to that next level. It's cool to see the accolades, but when it comes down to it we're still trying to get better every day and get that call-up."
SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 3: against the Stockton Heat at SAP Center on November 3, 2021 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Kavin Mistry)
The climb is most enjoyed with company, and Gawdin has had that since breaking into the league.
Matthew Phillips is alongside him on the march to the top, hot on Gawdin's heels with 103 career points, six shy in three fewer games played.
Phillips' next point, No. 104, would put him in a tie with Andrew Mangiapane - the Flames' sixth-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft, a year before the Calgary native Phillips - who played his way through the AHL and into a starring role with the Flames.
"Mangiapane is a guy we talk about a lot down here," said Phillips. "He truly worked his way up. He wasn't given anything. He's had to earn everything he has. The points come along with that, but you see him doing the same thing in the NHL now. It's pretty cool. He's a guy that I've definitely tried to learn some things from, watch parts of his game and apply it to my own game."
Seemingly inevitably, the Gawdin-Phillips duo will be 1-2 in the Heat scoring books sooner rather than later, a fitting nod to the path they've shared. They both came into the AHL together as rookies in 2018-19 and finished with an identical 38 points - Phillips in 65 games, Gawdin in 64. They both earned All-Star recognition and their first respective NHL call-ups in 2019-20. They both made their NHL debut in 2020-21.
They've been tied from the start, and it's only fitting that they accompany each other to the top of the mountain in Stockton.
"It's always nice when there's someone who's in a similar situation to you," said Phillips. "Our rookie season we were in the same spot throughout the year, working our way up the lineup. We got to know each other really well, share that experience. As your focus shifts as you move through pro hockey, we're both looking to move to that next level."
The next level, full-time jobs in the NHL, is represented by the final, steep push. Each has had a taste - Gawdin skating in nine top level games while Phillips has one on his tab - and the taste has made them hungrier for more.
For now, though, there's work to be done. Fine-tuning the details of their game is the difference between seeing and sticking in the show. Each acknowledges while they've ascended a long way, there's still path to be tamed.
It's that drive that Heat coach Mitch Love has noticed that enables them to be so effective.
"In their fourth years of pro hockey, all in the same organization, they're still young," said Love. "They're trying to be NHL regulars. They're still driven. They come to the rink every day to get better, whether it's in the gym, on the ice in practice or in games, that's what this level's all about - just progression and development. Those are guys who push each other every day, the first ones on (the ice) and the last ones off. That's what we want from all of our guys who are here."
Over time, their roles have grown in Stockton. Once rookies looking to climb the depth chart, Phillips now wears an 'A' on his chest while Gawdin provides respected, steady leadership in a Heat club that's positively humming. Each has a place near the top of this season's leaderboard with the Heat - Gawdin coming in third and Phillips fourth on the roster with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Matthew Phillips is one point shy of Andrew Mangiapane's career AHL point total of 104. (Photo by Jack Lima)
Their impact on the offense - clicking at the fifth-best rate in the AHL at 3.55 goals per contest - is immense. Behind the veteran forwards, Phillips at 23 years of age and Gawdin at 24, the Heat have gotten off to a team-best 9-0-2 record and own the top spot in the Pacific Division through 11 games.
The impact they've had on the team goes beyond the box score. As leaders, as examples, their mettle and savvy trickles down throughout the lineup. Long term and beyond what the Heat have cooking in Stockton, their influence is felt with the younger players on the team, possibly to be seen in rookies Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary who are in a similar part of their careers as Gawdin and Phillips were when they first turned pro.
"It's huge (to have Gawdin and Phillips as examples)," said Love. "This whole league and this whole organization is built to develop prospects. (Gawdin and Phillips) have been through it at a young age and continue to go through it. It's not lost on them what they can provide to the first-year pros, the Zarys and Pelletiers, because that's a big component. It's not just their own personal worrying about themselves, but being a good teammate, which Matt and Glenn are. It's about helping people around you. That's how you make yourself and your team better."
The pair has been written about numerous times, and many are familiar with some of the details by now. They played a NHL series to determine who got the master bedroom as rookies. They divvied the cooking and the cleaning while figuring out life as professionals, relying heavily on each other to figure out this foreign terrain.
That's what makes this peak, false summit or not, so special, is that just as most things throughout their careers, they've done it together.
"I'm happy for (Phillips)," said Gawdin on Phillips' rise through the all-time ranks. "Everything he's gotten, he's deserved. It's weird how everything's worked out for the both of us. Going through everything at the same time, it's been easy. We've gone through the same things and help each other out when we can. He's one of the hardest working guys I know, and when I see him working, it makes me want to work hard. We have a good balance there. It seems like not too long ago we were getting our first pro points, and now we are where we are. We've always pushed each other, and we'll keep pushing each other until we make it."
"It's awesome. It's exciting. It's pretty cool to have someone who you're close with on a personal level doing what he's doing," said Phillips on Gawdin's place on the precipice of history. "Three years ago it probably seemed pretty far away that he'd be where he is here or making the Flames out of camp or getting a NHL point like he has. He's earned all that opportunity, and he'll continue to earn more. It's great to see."
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