For many kids growing up, playing in the NHL was a dream. For most boys, those dreams quickly turned into fantasies. I talked with Luke Philp who signed his first NHL contract with the Calgary Flames. The University of Alberta Golden Bear took the road less traveled into his first pro contract.
Most 17-year-olds are focused on graduating from high school and enjoying their last years as seniors. For some, they are interviewing all year long for a lucrative career in the NHL.
“I had it in my mind all along that I wasn’t going to leave school unless I got an NHL contract out of it.”
Luke Philp was one of those kids playing for the Kootenay ICE but his name didn’t get called on draft night. Luke shared some of his thoughts after not getting drafted and if his NHL dream died:
“It was a little disheartening getting past over in the draft-can’t lie about that. For a couple of years there I thought I might go. There was a little lull after that but playing at U of A I never thought my hockey career was over. Did I think I was going to get an NHL contract out of it? I’d say probably not. But I still thought potentially one day I could play pro after my time at U of A.”
“I had it in my mind all along that I wasn’t going to leave school unless I got an NHL contract out of it. Originally I’d say my plan was to do my five years and then maybe stick around in North America or potentially try Europe out. To answer the question I don’t think that was ever out of the question but I just put that idea to the side for the time being.”
Next Chapter in Edmonton
The University of Alberta has been a powerhouse in Canadian university hockey and was one of the main reasons Luke chose them after his WHL career ended.
“I went back and forth a little bit about where I could see my self ending up. But I think it ultimately came down to the hockey. I thought it was the best program available and they’ve had a lot of success in the past. I didn’t know anybody personally going in but I figured I’d make friends pretty quick. Talked to a few of the alumni guys who played there and said it was the best five years of their life. I think for me I was still looking to play the best level of hockey I could and that’s why I ultimately chose there.”
Luke’s game obviously took huge strides forward in Edmonton and he credited his teammates for his production last season:
“Got to thank my teammates obviously, they’re a big part of it. We have the best depth in the league by a long shot in my opinion. I think I just shot the puck a little more this year and had more of a shooting mentality. I guess it was kind of just an overall growth as a player and just a slightly different mindset going into games.”
“Confidence is a big thing-not that I didn’t lack it in the WHL but I continued to grow each year and that allowed me to have the success I had-especially in the last few years.”
His overall growth as a player in university hockey culminated with 21 goals and 45 points in just 24 games his final season. Those 21 goals matched his total goal numbers from his first two seasons combined.
I Asked Him Why He Saw Such a Dramatic Increase in Scoring?
“I can’t pinpoint anything in particular- as you get older you improve in lots of different areas. Playing against older and stronger guys, that always helps. I think the practices that we had at U of A (helped). The players that we have on the team help you improve because you’re around them and practicing every day.”
“Probably my quickness got a little better. Coming off my last WHL season I had an ankle injury, so that was kind of a setback for me and I think my quickness did improve. Confidence is a big thing-not that I didn’t lack it in the WHL but I continued to grow each year and that allowed me to have the success I had-especially in the last few years.”
Luke Philp’s First Contract with Calgary
His strong season started getting attention from NHL teams and gave Luke some hope that those NHL dreams hadn’t died. I asked him if there were any moments during the season where he started to believe in his NHL dream again.
“Yeah, there was a few. A media guy with the Oilers: Bob Stauffer started posting a few tweets about me and that kind of got some attention going. Then, later on, talking to my agent he said there are a few NHL teams that are seriously considering you right now. And midpoint of the season I started to heat up a bit and my agent said there could be potential to sign a deal at the end of the year. I’m just happy everything worked out the way it did.”
Luke shared his experience on the moment his signing was official with the Flames:
“It was awesome. I think first I would have told my roommates because they were around and kind of known what was happening over the last month or two before my signing. And then shortly after (I called) my parents-called my brothers and a couple of close buddies and told them to keep it a little quiet until it went through, but then it blew up one morning because Bob McKenzie tweeted about it, so it was kind of out there after that. But it was a pretty awesome feeling, and a really cool experience to go through.”
“It was awesome signing with the Flames. Living an hour away they’ve always been my hometown team”
The Calgary Flames turned out to be the first team to offer him an NHL contract.
Luke Got into Why He Would Only Leave University for an NHL Contract.
“My agent kind of told me that there were three or four teams interested in an American League deal but I always said all along I would leave school for that. Since I thought that could be available still after I got my degree, but when my agent told me about the flames offering an NHL deal it was too good to pass up-I wanted to jump on that as soon as I could. That was the first NHL offer on the table and I ended up just going through with it.”
An added bonus for Luke was that the Calgary Flames were his favorite team growing up since he lived in nearby Canmore Alberta.
“It was awesome signing with the Flames. Living an hour away they’ve always been my hometown team. I remember the cup run they went on in 04 and I’ve always been an Iggy fan. Playing for the Kootenay ICE the Calgary Hitman was our biggest rival so I’ve had a few experiences playing in the Saddledome already. I’m Looking forward to development camp and getting things going.”
Working Towards the NHL
Luke says it hasn’t really sunk in yet that he’s now a pro athlete. The 23-year-old starts his two-year contract this fall but says he still doesn’t know if it’s sunk in yet.
“I don’t know, it was pretty overwhelming when it first happened-how much attention it was getting. I think maybe once school comes back around in September I’d be going back to classes and meeting back up with the guys. Eventually, it’s going to sink in there where it’s like okay there’s no school anymore and your only focus is playing hockey. It’s going to be different-I’m excited about it but it’s a little bittersweet as well. I’m going to miss all my teammates and all the friends I made at the U of A. But I’m excited about the opportunity to come to play.”
“Eventually, it’s going to sink in there where it’s like okay there’s no school anymore and your only focus is playing hockey.”
Luke is already hard at work improving his game in anticipation for this year’s training camp. He laid out some of the areas he’s focusing on improving:
“I’ve been working with the Flames at the Edge school. Working hard in the gym is the main thing. I think my lower body strength is something I’m going to focus a lot on improving my leg strength for the adjustment to pro hockey. There’s no question that it’ll be an adjustment, it’s going to be faster, the players are stronger and everyone’s better.
“I’m aware of that and I think I’m ready for the challenge. I think on top of improving my lower body strength, just getting on the ice as much as I can-doing some power skating worth the Flames, working on skills. And just sort of adjusting to how everything is going to be done quicker (on the ice). So I think the main two areas are focusing on doing things quicker in all aspects of the game and then improving my strength-mainly my leg strength since it’ll be harder to battle these guys at the pro level.”
High Character and Highly Skilled
Another thing Flames fans won’t have to worry about with Luke is his character. He was wearing an “A” on his jersey in the WHL and for the U of A.
Luke got into why he thinks he’s been given leadership roles everywhere he’s played. Last season he was the assistant captain for the Golden Bears and also wore the ‘A’ for the ICE.
“I’m pretty vocal in the dressing room especially after you get comfortable with the groups of guys you’re playing with. I’m definitely a guy who likes to keep positive energy flowing throughout the room-I don’t like when things kind of get negative in the room. I also have a good work ethic over my course in junior and now playing the last three years in U-Sports I’ve developed a new work ethic.”
“I also have a good work ethic over my course in junior and now playing the last three years in U-Sports I’ve developed a new work ethic.”
“It’s a little different playing 72 games in the WHL versus the grind of being a student-athlete. You have to approach every day and work as hard as you can. A guy like me on our team or any of the other top players work hard as we do it kind of rubs off on the other guys and I think that’s how the Golden Bears have operated for a long time now and I think that’s why they’ve been so successful for so long.”
The Flames are not only getting a hard-working high character player but a skilled forward too.
He Told Me What Flames Fans Can Expect to See from His Game This Fall:
“Well, they can expect a two-way smart forward who makes good plays all over the ice. A guy who’s going to compete all the time- a very shifty player who can separate himself from defensemen and make tight plays in and around the net. Just a guy who’s going to bring a lot of speed and offense.”
The Calgary Flames have recently found success with Derek Ryan, who is another U of A alumni. They’ll hope to make it a perfect two-for-two after signing Luke Philp.
My overall impressions from Luke watching him play for the last three years and meeting him were that he’s a humble person and the best player on the ice every night. He’s an easy player to root for and I won’t be surprised to see him make some serious waves this season and make the Flames sooner rather than later.