This month’s Coach’s Tribute is about a man who wasn’t technically my coach, but a life coach of sorts for thousands of us in the Cole Harbour Bel-Ayr Minor Hockey Association.
Big Phil Herritt was one of the most generous men I’ve ever known, but I didn’t really know that at the time as a very young player. I grew up playing with some of his own kids close to my age, so Phil was almost always involved with a team I was on. I know now how lucky that made me, and not in the obvious ways.
Phil was always providing us with new team jackets and gear bags and more, but that isn’t what defined him at all. His personality shined through everything else. He was just a very jovial person and his smile was contagious. He was one of those rare adults that somehow I felt very comfortable around, and was able to form a relationship with outside of the general day to day business of hockey.
With Phil, my greatest memories aren’t even in the hockey rink. They’re in the hotels just hanging out with some of the players and his family. They’re at the end of year banquets. They’re in his van on the road trips. One time we left a 24 pack of Pepsi cans in his van overnight in PEI. I’ll never forget his reaction to seeing the exploded slush all over the floor. This was also in the days of no seatbelts, and one of our players was curled up asleep in the back on top of the jersey bags. This poor kid threw up on the sweaters and just felt awful. I won’t quote Phil, but I’ll never forget how he handled that, making the kid feel better and busting us up laughing with a classic one-liner that I still tell today. That was Phil.
I still listen to Phil Collins because that was the cassette for one of these trips.
One other thing I’ll never forget is randomly bumping into him in later years. I was now a junior coach and we were playing in St. Margaret’s Bay. I walked in to the rink and to my surprise, the Cole Harbour Midgets were playing. There he was, now in a wheel chair, shaking my hand as an equal and flashing that grin. That was Phil, and I miss him.