It wasn’t imperative that Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter appoint a new captain after dealing Wyatt Johnson to the Spokane Chiefs on New Years Day.
With a team loaded with experience and talent, the belief was that there was more than enough leadership already on board. But when centre Luke Philp returned from a nearly three-month layoff two weeks ago, it soon became apparent that he was the man to wear the ‘C’.
“He’s a proven leader, a guy who’s a proven player at playoff time,” Sutter said Thursday. “I think it was an important step for us and it was pretty unanimous among the coaches and everyone on the hockey operations side who needed to be our captain moving forward.”
Philp was the Kootenay Ice captain this season before sustaining an ankle injury that required surgery in late November. Acquired from the Ice Jan. 3, he finally made his Rebels debut Feb. 12 in a 4-1 loss at Calgary.
“It felt really good to be back. You get pretty frustrated being out for as long as I was,” said Philp. “It was really good to get into the lineup. It takes a couple of games to get back to game speed, but I’m feeling really good now.”
The 20-year-old Canmore native, who put up 29 points, including 13 goals, in 22 games with the Ice this season and has recorded four goals and two assists in six outings with the Rebels, had barely been cleared to practice when he got into his first game with the Rebels.
“He’s a player who does the right things. He’s going to play hard every shift and again, the bigger the game the better he plays,” said Sutter. “Just look at our (recent) road trip. For a guy who hadn’t played in a long time, a guy who had hardly practised with us at all … to come in and play like he has, that speaks for itself and a lot of it is based on just his character.
“The day before he played his first game with us he’d only had one practice and after practice he came into the coaches room and asked me what my plan was for him. I told him what it was — to basically to get through a couple of more practices and then we’d play him.
“He just basically flat out told us, ‘put me in the friggin lineup’. That just speaks about his character. I thought about it through the night and the next day I called him at one o’clock and told him I was going to play him.”
So far, so good. Philp has already exhibited his two-way skills and is skating on the Rebels’ top line with Adam Helewka and Jake DeBrusk.
While he was somewhat taken aback at Sutter’s decision to name him as the club’s new official on-ice leader, Philp wasn’t shocked that he was given the appointment.
“Maybe a little bit, but Brent had meetings with me and told me he brought me in to take a leadership role with this team,” said Philp. “I was a little surprised, but at the same time I knew it was a possibility.”
It’s a role he’s gladly taken on and one that he is confident he won’t handle alone.
“There’s a lot of really good leaders on this team so I know I wouldn’t be doing it by myself, that’s for sure,” he said.
The Rebels snapped a five-game losing streak with last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the Prince George Cougars in the final leg of a four-game B.C. Division road trip.
Philp, who served as an assistant captain with the Ice each of the previous two seasons, is confident that the hard-fought victory can be a springboard to future success.
“We took a lot of positives out of the Prince George series,” he said, referring also to a 3-1 loss last Friday. “We played hard both games. That was a good series and we were glad to get the win in that last game. It got us out of the slump and now we have to build off that and keep moving forward.”
Philp sees plenty of potential for the 2016 Memorial Cup host Rebels — who officially clinched a playoff berth this week — to finish off the regular season on a positive note and go deep into the post-season.
“There’s tons (of potential) here, the sky is the limit,” he said. “This group has a lot of talent, we just need to put it all together and find ways to play a full 60 minutes and I think we’ll be fine.”
Sutter is confident Philp is the right man to lead his squad down the regular-season homestretch and beyond.
“It’s just his makeup, it’s the way he is,” said the Rebels boss. “He’s a player who is very well respected inside our (dressing) room. He’s not a player who talks a lot but when he speaks it’s about the team. It’s not about individual stuff, it’s about team stuff.”
• The Rebels open a weekend homestand tonight against the Portland Winterhawks. The Victoria Royals visit the Centrium Saturday.