The game of hockey is a life-long process of continuous learning, something University of Alberta Golden Bears forward Luke Philp has fully embraced.
From his minor hockey days to playing with the University of Alberta Golden Bears, Philp has come a long way, but is feeling nowhere near done when it comes to his on-ice play. Even after 264 games in the Western Hockey League, in some ways, he’s only just begun.
The product of Canmore, Alta., now a leading member of the Canada West-leading Golden Bears program, has his sights set on leading his program to their 54th Canada West Conference championship and 16th national title, which would be a U SPORTS record, when their playoff run begins this weekend.
It was by no easy path that Philp was given a chance to don the green and gold. The process happened night-in and night-out over the course of his WHL career with the Kootenay ICE and Red Deer Rebels, but the beginnings go back even further and to the other side of the country.
As Halifax played host to the 2011 Canada Winter Games, a bond through hockey was born between Philp and Alberta’s assistant coach Serge Lajoie, who helped lead their province to a bronze medal at the tournament.
“I always kept an eye on Luke and was impressed with him back in the day as a 15-year-old,” Lajoie, now the head coach of the Golden Bears program, said. “He definitely showed the leadership abilities by being captain in Kootenay as well as in Red Deer.”
So when the time came for Philp to access his WHL Scholarship, being able to join forces with Lajoie once again was a perfect fit.
“They’ve had such a long-standing tradition of winning here; they’ve always had really strong teams,” Philp said. “I heard nothing but really good things about the program so I think that was the main aspect of it from the hockey standpoint.”
In his 264 WHL regular season games, Philp had a knack for offensive success with 251 points (103G-148A), a trait he’s continued into his time with the Golden Bears. After tallying 18 points (10G-8A) in 26 games during his rookie campaign, Philp won the Canada West regular season scoring title in the 2017-18 campaign with 48 points (11G-29A) in 28 games.
When the Canada West conference named their all-star teams Wednesday, Philp was the lone second-year forward named to the first team.
Philp added he hasn’t see a huge change in himself to account for the offensive surge, but more a change to the hockey landscape and learning to embrace the mentality that every weekend is a big weekend.
“The hockey sense of things is quite different from the WHL,” Philp added. “Every game seems to be like a big game you’ve got to get up for.”
Philp knows a thing or two about playing in big games thanks to his time in the WHL. Selected in the third round, 59th overall, by the ICE in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft, he quickly made an impression on the town of Cranbrook, B.C. and the ICE faithful, helping them make the playoffs in the three full seasons he was a part of the club.
Though a mid-season trade took him away from the ICE in the 2015-16 season, he was called upon to join the Rebels for their run to the 2016 Mastercard Memorial Cup, a tournament they had the responsibility of hosting. Philp’s reputation was further enhanced as head coach Brent Sutter named him as the team’s new captain.
Having that experience to play on the national stage once again was another rewarding experience for Philp’s hockey development, one that has continually served to benefit him on a Golden Bears squad that enters each season as the perennial favourites to win.
“Being on that Red Deer team, [you were] expecting to win,” Philp continued. “We have a very good team, very talented team so I think that helped a lot. In the WHL in general, it doesn’t matter where you are, you expect to win every night.
“That’s the same as it is here. We expect to win every game. The WHL helped me prepare for that.”
The pace of play is competitive at both levels, but with the reduced schedule at the Canada West level, you have to be ready to go every weekend.
“Having played in the Memorial Cup, it helps players prepare to develop a certain level of confidence to go into big games,” Lajoie continued. “The thing with Canada West hockey is every weekend is an important weekend.
“Every game is important and I think that the Memorial Cup, for Luke having experienced that, you heighten your attention to the details, you heighten your attention to how you need to prepare for big games.”
It’s no secret that WHL players have made up the core of past championship teams and Philp is part of that next generation with the same expectations on his shoulders. For Lajoie, the ability to recruit players like Philp from the WHL has a direct benefit to him and his program achieving success at the Canada West level. In return, the players have been provided with the opportunity to gain a full education and continue their development as human beings while still playing the game they love.
“The [WHL] does a very good job of preparing the players for the next step,” Lajoie added. “It’s a step-up coming from the WHL to Canada West.
“What we found is a lot of our players have a really good foundation for us to continue to build off of. The maturity side of things is very important as well, because now they’re no longer in a billet family and not only focused on school; they have to start taking care of themselves and manage themselves and be organized and disciplined.”
Philp isn’t just committed on the ice, he’s focused in the classroom, interested in one day working in the business side of a hockey. It’s a way for him to stay in touch with the game he’s grown up loving his whole life.
He has had more than enough help in learning to succeed, but the ability to forge his own path all over again in a league against familiar players is a rewarding process to work through all over again.
“When you get to this level, it’s a little different in that the guys, there’s still older players that they show you the way, but you are a little more mature and you pick things up a little quicker,” Philp added.
There’s also the opportunity for rivalries to turn into friendships. Philp doesn’t take all the credit for his success, giving linemates Trevor Cox and Cole Sanford their due. It’s by a fun coincidence that Cox and Sanford once battled against Philp in the WHL’s Central Division as members of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“Lots of guys that I play with now, I hated in the WHL,” Philp said with a chuckle. “They’ve become good friends of mine. It’s funny how it works that way.
“You play with rivals and then you have continued rivalries with guys that you played against in the WHL.”
Having already arrived on the Canada West scene and a rising star in the U SPORTS ranks, Philp has the tools to succeed and the Golden Bears are more than happy to have him leading the charge.
The Golden Bears wil open their Canada West semi-final Friday, February 23 (7:00 p.m. MST) at home against the Mount Royal University Cougars.