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New AHL team, bigger opportunities for Canmore’s Luke Philp

“My goals haven’t changed at all as a player – my goal is to play in the NHL."

ROCKFORD – Relocating to Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet’s hometown of Rockford, Illinois, Canmore hockey standout Luke Philp is taking a page out of the all-star’s book and is betting on himself in pursuit of his ultimate goal.

Packing up his belongings and moving to the Midwest with his girlfriend, Philp began a one-year, two-way contract with the Chicago Blackhawks worth $750,000 in the NHL and $250,000 in the American Hockey League (AHL), where he’s started the season with the organization’s farm team, the Rockford IceHogs.

Entering his fourth professional season and with no NHL games, Philp’s childhood dream is still very much alive – and his new organization is an ideal spot for an ambitious player’s dreams to come true.

“My goals haven’t changed at all as a player – my goal is to play in the NHL,” said Philp.

The reliable centre had spent the past three seasons in the Calgary Flames organization, exclusively playing with its farm team the Stockton Heat – now Calgary Wranglers – playing 148 games and scoring 48 goals and 92 points.

As Calgary is primed to make a run at the Stanley Cup, it meant for guys like Philp, who grew up watching the Flames, there is “not a whole lot of opportunity with roster spots” on the big club.

“I’m turning 27 this year and I still don’t have NHL games, but there’s still opportunity and I’m still getting better every year as a player,” said Philp. “I really enjoyed my time in Calgary, but I thought I was ready to move on.”

When the Blackhawks came calling, the original six team presented a unique situation that caught Philp’s attention and the potential to push for a roster spot.

The contracts of star players Patrick Kane and captain Jonathan Toews expire at the end of the season, and the Blackhawks are trending toward a major rebuild – and openings will become available.

“When I see that as a player, there might be opportunity to get NHL games in,” said Philp.

However, the former Canmore Eagle has played in enough AHL games to know not to set any sort of timeline on a potential call-up to the big league. Instead, he’ll concentrate on the success of the IceHogs.

“I think it’s important to be in the moment of where you are and focus on how you can improve your game down here to give you a shot up in the NHL,” said Philp.

And judging by Philp’s debut with the IceHogs, he’s making every game count.

On Saturday (Oct.15), the centre from Canmore punched up his stock with the organization in more ways than one.

With nothing going right on the scoreboard, Philp found a dance partner in Kristian Reichel in the second period, giving the Manitoba Moose winger punishing blows while inciting some much-needed oomph into his teammates. It was Philp’s first fight in the AHL and his first since 2016.

“I know as a player when any one of my teammates decides to drop the gloves, there’s a respect factor there,” said Philp. “I think my team, they loved to see that kind of thing and that competitiveness out of a new guy they don’t know a whole lot about.”

Down 3-0 going into the third, the IceHogs had more life breathed into them when a one-timer by Philp – No. 1 in his new colours – hit the back of the net and started a comeback. The IceHogs got the game to within one, but time was hasty and ticked away.

Insert clutch Philp.

With a goal and fight to his name, the five-foot-10 Philp muscled to the front of the net like monster defenceman Zdeno Chara in his prime and parked himself there. With just over two minutes remaining, Philp got a stick on a teammate’s shot from outside the face-off circle that re-directed past the goalie to tie things up.

Momentum swung on the IceHogs side, and it took 90 seconds for Philp to assist on Brett Seney’s game-winning goal. The Canmore centre ended his debut with a classic Gordie Howe hat trick ­– one goal, one assist, and one fight.

“I’m not going to lie, it was pretty cool to have a Gordie Howe hat trick. I haven’t had one of those before, that’s for sure,” said Philp.

For his efforts, Philp was given the AHL’s second star on Oct. 15.

“I thought [Philp] was good all over the ice,” said IceHogs head coach Anders Sorensen in a media scrum. “I think the guys showed a lot character; it’s all the credit to them. They decided once we got the first one, it was ‘OK, here we go, guys’; I think some of those older guys who have been around were really good on the bench, so all the credit to them.”

Philp’s home debut is Saturday night (Oct. 22) as the IceHogs take on the Chicago Wolves in Rockford.

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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