Former Kootenay Ice captain Luke Philp has yet to suit up for the Red Deer Rebels since a Jan. 3 trade sent him east across the border to the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts.
Hampered with a broken ankle since mid-November, Philp was in Cranbrook this past Friday evening, though he didn’t take to the ice as his Rebels skated to a 5-2 victory.
“It was weird, but I was happy I was able to come on the road trip back,” Philp said following his team’s win Friday evening. “I actually did skate [Friday] morning, so I was on the ice a little. But it was nice to be back and see my billet family and friends, guys on [the Ice]. It was a different experience.”
With the 20-year-old Philp skating, the next question is a simple one: how close is he to returning to game action?
“He might be able to play Saturday, we’ll see how the week goes,” Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter told Greg Meachem, of the Red Deer Advocate, on Tuesday without making any promises. “He just started skating and has had just one full practice with the team.”
While that might not matter much to Kootenay Ice fans as Friday’s outing marked the final meeting of the season between the two Central Division rivals, it certainly means a whole lot to the Rebels.
Sutter gave up 20-year-old Presten Kopeck, 17-year-old Ryan Pouliot, and 16-year-old Tanner Sidaway, along with second- and third-round picks in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, in order to acquire Philp.
“The guys are really good and they’ve made the transition a lot easier,” Philp said of life with the Rebels. “The coaching and training staff is good. I’ve been spending a lot of time with the training staff. They’ve been really good to me in welcoming me to the Rebels. I’m just excited to get going, get playing.
“[The ankle] feels really good. I’ve been skating for two weeks now and it’s close. It’s close. I don’t know exactly how far, but it’s close. I’m in the home stretch. I’m excited to get back practicing with the team and hopefully be in the lineup soon.”
The 5-foot-10, 174-pound pivot originally sustained the ankle injury Nov. 21 in a 2-1 Kootenay Ice victory over the Swift Current Broncos. To that point in the campaign, the shifty centreman had posted 13 goals and 29 points in 22 games.
As it stands, the Rebels (34-16-1-2) have 19 games remaining in regular season action. While the ticket is booked to the Memorial Cup as event hosts, the club is still pushing for a Central Division title, sitting second behind the upstart Lethbridge Hurricanes (37-16-0-0)
Prior to breaking his ankle, Philp had remained relatively healthy throughout his 247-game WHL career, missing no more than six games after joining the Kootenay Ice on a full-time basis in 2012-13. While the ankle injury has presented some challenges and made the well-spoken leader anxious watching from the stands, it has provided him a unique opportunity to watch his new teammates and learn about their build from a distance.
“We can play in different fashions — we can play a physical game or we can play a skilled game,” Philp said. “We work extremely hard. We’ve got some work to do here over the last 20 games. It’s not going to be an easy road, but we’re ready and we’re hoping to make a good playoff run here.
“Consistency in the effort we bring [needs improvement]. These are big games coming down the stretch. Every night is big points, we’re trying to catch Lethbridge right now. We know we can be a really good team when we want to be, but it’s being a really good team every night.”
With the Feb. 8 release of the WHL’s Weekly Report, Philp’s status has been upgraded to day-to-day after being listed as week-to-week on the Feb. 1 edition of the league’s injury and roster roundup.
Next on the docket for Philp and the Rebels is a Wednesday meeting with the Medicine Hat Tigers (20-30-3-1) at the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer.
In 247 career regular-season games with the Kootenay Ice, Philp amassed 95 goals, 140 assists and 235 points. His 235 career points sit sixth all-time in Ice franchise history.
In 28 WHL post-season games, all with the Ice, Philp tallied 12 goals and 28 points, and was named the team’s top playoff performer in 2015.
Philp, a native of Canmore, Alta., was a third-round pick (59th overall) of the Ice at the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft.