FLINT (WJRT) - (06/23/2019) - It’s been an unforgettable week for Flint firefighter Rico Phillips.
He was awarded the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award on Thursday at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
"It was hard to believe that we were actually there and this was actually happening," said Phillips.
But his passion for the game led him to create the Flint Inner City Youth Hockey Program in 2010.
Each year he shares the game of hockey with local kids at no cost.
When he reached the stage in Las Vegas he found it to be a great chance to give Flint some love.
"When I had an opportunity to say something positive and recognize my hometown,” said Phillips. “It was powerful for me and I know it was from what I understand from the reaction that I got it was powerful for many people."
Around Flint, he's known as Firefighter Phillips. But recently people have been calling him a different name.
"They're saying you're that hockey guy. The change is happening and I'm so proud to be a part of that," said Phillips.
After winning he has hundreds of Facebook messages and texts that his phone was dying. But it touched him to see how many people in his life cared and understood that moment.
"That part has been the most heartfelt, heartwarming is knowing that it made a difference for people here, it made people smile," said Phillips.
The whole night was surreal to him. He got to meet some of his NHL idols, like Anson Carter, Mark Messier, and P.K. Subban.
It wasn't until he was alone that it all hit him.
"As I walked down the hallway I was by myself and I broke down in tears. The gravity of it finally hit me, the emotions of it finally hit me," said Phillips
Phillips says this is just the beginning for the program.
"Moving forward I've got a lot of work to do, this isn't it,” said Phillips. “This is the beginning really. This is just the part that sends me into a spot that I can probably do more than I could have ever done another way."