CALGARY — The tears in Lisa Philp’s eyes were similar to the ones she shed on Christmas morning, celebrating the journey of her son, Luke.
A 27-year-old minor leaguer who still carried the dream of playing in the NHL, his gift to his mom that day was a framed diploma from the University of Alberta, where he’d taken a few extra years after playing there to get his business degree.
On Thursday, he presented his parents with another emotional keepsake — the puck with which he recorded his first NHL point.
And, like the meandering path toward fulfilling his big-league dreams, the way it all unfolded was, well, unique.
Two days after making his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks in Vancouver, the native of nearby Canmore, Alta., was told he’d be scratched against the Calgary Flames.
However, less than three hours before puck drop he was informed Jonathan Toews’ non-COVID illness would open the door for a second NHL spin.
“I was actually meeting a couple of buddies with the (AHL’s Calgary) Wranglers for a quick bite before the game with my suit on and I got a call at 4:40 p.m. saying I was in,” said Philp, who had spent his previous three seasons with the Flames’ AHL affiliate.
“I had to change the mindset a bit.”
Throughout a career that has seen the five-foot-10, 181-pound WHL grad play three years with the Golden Bears before signing as a free agent with the Flames affiliate, the talented centre maintained a dogged determination to one day skate with the world’s best.
The road through a Canadian university is one only two other players in today’s NHL have navigated — Vegas Golden Knights netminder Logan Thompson (Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.) and fellow U of A alum Derek Ryan of the Edmonton Oilers.
“A guy I look up to and a cool guy to follow in his footsteps,” said Philp of Ryan, with whom he attended Flames training camp.
“Seeing what he’s done, and how he took a somewhat similar path with the Golden Bears and over in Europe before coming back here was good to see.
“I always believed in myself. Pro wasn’t there when I was 20, so went to school and had some good years there and got an opportunity to sign with Calgary.
“I never gave up. I think there are lots of guys at U of A who still believe they can pay pro hockey, whether it’s in North America or Europe. Pretty cool for me to do it.”
His assist came in the second period of a 5-1 humiliation of the Flames by the Blackhawks when he set up Boris Katchouk to break a 1-1 deadlock.
“One of those surreal moments — I was like, ‘No way,’” he said, smiling, holding the puck he’d later hand off to his parents and older brother Simon.
“Pretty cool to do it in this building, an hour from home with friends and family in the stands.”
The big moment came in a building in which the talented centre scored plenty of times against the Hitmen while hoping the right eyes would eventually see him and give him his chance.
Instead, the former Kootenay Ice and Red Deer Rebels forward went undrafted and pursued the dream through the nation’s top university program, where the former Memorial Cup participant also played for two U Sports titles.
After putting up decent numbers in Stockton (previously the Flames’ affiliate in the AHL), he felt he’d have to leave the Flames organization to have a better chance of cracking an NHL roster.
“I loved my time here and the group I played with in Stockton, but it was time for me to look elsewhere for a different opportunity, and I thought Chicago would be a great fit and chance to play in the NHL,” said Philp, who recorded his first Gordie Howe hat trick on opening night for the AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs.
And here he is — a man equally as proud of graduating as he is fulfilling a dream.
“It’s so amazing to see his journey to get to the NHL and how hard he’s worked — he amazes me,” said Simon, his older sibling.
“He always thought there was a path, even if it went through Europe, where a bunch of his buds went,” added Mom.
“He’s smart, he stayed dedicated, he loves the sport and he got his business degree from U of A.
“He finished it during COVID. I’m so proud. That made me cry.”
The assist made her scream, resonating around a rink quieted by her son’s Blackhawks.
“You sit on the edge of your seat and just hold everything tight,” she said of the chance to watch him in the NHL.
“All this emotion just welled up – it’s just such a culmination of everything.
“It is an improbable journey.”