Four years ago, the Carolina Hurricanes found a really valuable depth player when they signed Derek Ryan. The Calgary Flames are hoping they’ve found a player that could be similarly useful for them in a fellow product of the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey program, forward Luke Philp.
Philp, 23, took the long route to pro hockey. Originally from Canmore, he played his minor hockey in the area before catching on with the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay ICE in 2011-12. He spent four seasons (and change) in the Dub with the ICE and Red Deer Rebels, including putting up over a point per game in his final three seasons.
But since Philp isn’t a huge physical specimen – he’s about Andrew Mangiapane’s size – he wasn’t snapped up by an NHL organization. Looking to keep playing, he headed to university.
“There was different options,” said Philp after a recent Flames practice at Winsport. “For whatever reason the pro wasn’t working out at the time, so I chose to go to school and I continued to develop and improve as a player while I was there. Everybody takes different routes and you kind of have to have the model where whenever you’re playing anyone you don’t know who could be watching in the stands. I continued to improve my game up at the U of A there and then got the opportunity here with Calgary.”
Philp’s decision to head to the University of Alberta was a good one. After getting his bearings as a freshman, he excelled in his second and third U-Sports seasons. In each of those campaigns, he was his conference’s leading scorer and a first team national all-star. The Golden Bears headed to the University Cup – Canada’s national championship for college hockey – in each year, continuing a winning tradition that helped attract Philp to the program.
“The history of the program,” said Philp. “The tradition they have there of winning and the hockey culture, it’s been such a good hockey program for so long, they’ve been dominant in CIS history, so it was ultimately the hockey that made my decision easy to go there.”
Philp is one of six players from the most recent Golden Bears squad to sign pro contracts – the other five were signed to the AHL, ECHL and KHL. While Philp was focused on being the best player he could be at the collegiate level, the dream of pro hockey never really left him.
“I always thought pro was an option, I just thought I would finish up my schooling first,” said Philp, who has a year and a half left in coursework for a degree in business economics and business law. “There’s been lots of guys before sign contracts, whether it be in Europe or American League deals or stuff like that, getting opportunities here in North America as well. I definitely thought pro would still be an option, I just didn’t know it would come when it did.”
When Philp suits up for his first professional game, it’ll likely be in the AHL – the number of bodies with more pro seniority and seasoning than him make that a virtual certainty. He’s focused on doing what he did with the Golden Bears: making the most of his opportunities and making adjustments so he can be the best player he can be at the pro level.
“It’s an adjustment to pro hockey,” said Philp. “It’s better hockey. It’s faster. It’s stronger out there. The puck moves quicker. But there’s no doubt in my mind I can make an adjustment and be an impact player. It’s up to me to make that adjustment as quick as possible and just continue to improve.”