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Canmore’s Philp gets Alberta homecoming in first NHL stint

Canmore hockey ace Luke Philp finally made his NHL debut and scored his first point in a memorable week.

CHICAGO, Illinois – The first NHL stint and point scored of Luke Philp’s career led back to the province where it all started.

Suiting up with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canmorite made his NHL debut last week, playing in Vancouver against the Canucks on Jan. 24, and then against the Flames in Calgary on Jan. 26, in what was an incredible week for family, friends, and, of course, Philp.

At 27 years old, a helmet-less Philp was sent out onto the ice before the game at Rogers Arena in Vancouver to do a rookie lap – a common initiation for rookies who made it to the big show.

“The players playing in their first ever game do that,” said Philp. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a 19-year-old playing in the NHL or a 27-year-old, like myself. It’s still something that’s pretty exciting and fun to do.”

For years, the forward kept his stick on the ice and tirelessly worked toward a life-long dream. It was a very unconventional path to the big league, but no one can take away the hard work and grind Philp made through the ranks of the AJHL, WHL, U-Sports, and AHL.

A thought shared by Philp’s biggest supporters.

“We got there in time for his rookie lap,” said Philp’s mother Lisa de Soto. “Seeing him come out, and that he’s made it, brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. It was quite an emotional time to be there and watch him do that.”

Having one of his best offensive seasons yet in the AHL, Philp got a call on Sunday evening (Jan. 22) at his Illinois home while watching a movie with his girlfriend. On the other end of the line was Mark Bernard, general manager of the Rockford IceHogs – the Blackhawks' farm team.

“He just kind of said they’re [the Blackhawks] going on a western road trip and they’re leaving for Vancouver tomorrow morning and you’ll be going with them,” said Philp.

An unfortunate injury to centre Tyler Johnson provided an opportunity for the Canmore hockey ace.

By Monday evening, Philp was told he’d be in the line-up and had his parents and girlfriend flown to town for the game – a common practice prearranged for players making their NHL debut.

Taking in the moment, it was a nervously played game. The Blackhawks lost 5-2. The NHL team then travelled to Philp’s home province, taking on the Flames and then the Edmonton Oilers to close out the road swing.

The funny thing is, Philp wasn’t even pencilled in to play against the Flames until the last minute when Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews came down with a sickness. Philp replaced Toews in the line-up a few hours before puck drop.

“It allowed me to play in front of family and friends in a rink that I’ve played in quite a bit growing up,” said Philp about the Scotiabank Saddledome. “I felt better in that game compared to the first as far as getting into a rhythm and being able to handle pucks and make some plays. It was a pretty cool moment.”

For three seasons prior, Philp played for the Flames’ farm team, the Stockton Heat (now the Calgary Wranglers). He signed with the Blackhawks in the summer to pursue greater opportunities and a better shot at playing in the big league. Philp’s gamble paid off and his big moment in Calgary was capped off by assisting on the game-winning goal.

In the second period, with the game tied at one, Philp handled the puck in the o-zone behind the net. The Canmorite protected the puck and skated toward the blueline to the right of Calgary’s net, where, he saw teammate Boris Katchduk waiting in the high slot. Philp made the pass, and Katchduk ripped one past goaltender Jacob Markström.

“I thought [Katchduk] would look to find someone else, but he released it and made a good play towards the net and then it went in,” said Philp. “It was a pretty awesome and a surreal moment that I just got an assist in the NHL. The huddle, it was pretty cool, everyone kind of gave me a little nod. It was exciting to do it in front of friends and family at the Saddledome.”

Watching from the stands, Philp’s family cheered wildly when the Blackhawks went up 2-1 over the hometown club, which got a few awkward stares.

“We had to explain to everybody that’s our son, that’s our son,” said an excited de Soto. “Then the whole group around us started cheering for Luke, so that was kind of fun, too. Such a moment of pride for us all.”

Philp was a healthy scratch against the Oilers, and has since been sent back down to the IceHogs.

However, with the current situation the Blackhawks face, coaches told Philp to stay ready because anything could happen.

In the basement of the standings, it’s believed the Blackhawks are going to be sellers at the March 3 trade deadline. Three major guns that NHL teams will be making inquiries about are stars Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Max Domi, who all have expiring contracts. The Blackhawks also don’t have any forwards signed past the 2023-24 season.

“They said you never know what’s going to happen, but be ready and keep playing the way you are down in Rockford and there might be more opportunity here in the future,” said Philp, who has scored 14 goals and 30 points in 31 games with a 6+ rating this season in Rockford.

An unconventional route to the NHL, Philp’s determination is a shining example of hard work and persistence paying off.

“Everyone peaks at different times,” said Philp. “For myself going to school and playing U-Sports, I think it’s pretty cool to be an inspiration for others and it would be cool to see other guys come through the ranks.”

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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