Like most children of NHL players, Philippe Lapointe spent a lot of time in and around the locker room in his early years.
His dad, Martin, had already won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings before he was born, but by the time Philippe was old enough to understand what was going on around him, Martin was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
This Blackhawks team hadn’t had much success in recent years, but they did have a couple of budding young superstars on the way.
“I’d oftentimes go into the locker room after games,” said Philippe. “[Jonathan] Toews and [Patrick] Kane were guys that I looked up to as a kid, so being able to interact with them was really cool. Hockey players are usually just the nicest people and they would take time out of their day just to interact with us.”
Without having to push him, Martin recalls Philippe instantly being attracted to the game.
“As a kid, he was around a lot of hockey games and he picked it up really quickly,” said Martin. “He was pretty good at it at an early age, so I kept him in hockey and he loved it. He always wanted to be there early for practices. He was like a rink rat. It all came naturally to him.”
In 2007-08, Martin was traded to the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline and ultimately ended up retiring after they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, ending his 16-year career.
Despite the late-season move, the Lapointe family stayed in Chicago after Martin’s retirement and that’s where Philippe’s hockey career truly began.
He played his minor hockey there until the age of 16, until he moved on to play for the prestigious Shattuck St. Mary’s hockey program, which has an illustrious list of NHL alumni, including players like Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Toews.
In his lone season with Shattuck St. Mary’s, Philippe led the team in assists with 44 and finished fourth in team scoring with 59 points in 56 games.
From there came one of the highlights of his young career when he was selected to play for Team USA at the 2017 Hlinka Gretzky Cup under-18 tournament.
“Just being able to represent Team USA and going overseas and having that whole experience was amazing,” he said. “That whole summer building up to it, it was a goal of mine, so just being able to play against other countries in a big tournament like that was really special and something that I’ll never forget.”
With both of Philippe’s parents being Canadian, but him having been born and raised the United States, him and his family had a decision to make and he ultimately chose to play for Team USA.
For Martin, who won two gold medals representing Canada at the World Junior Championships in 1991 and 1992, it was undoubtedly a strange experience watching his son don the red, white and blue.
“I let him decide himself and he felt comfortable representing the States,” said Martin. “He has respect for Canada. He knows Canada has good teams and they’re always hard-fought battles when they play against each other. I left it up to him, but it was kind of weird to see him in a USA jersey, that’s for sure.”
After his international experience, Philippe spent two years in the USHL, splitting time between the Lincoln Stars and Central Illinois Flying Aces.
Heading into this past offseason, he was looking for a change of pace before going to college in 2020 and that’s when him and his family turned they eyes to the BC Hockey League.
“We thought that the BCHL was more of an offensive league where they let the kids create and use their imagination on the ice,” said Martin. “I felt like they handcuffed the kids a little too much in some of the other situations he was in. I knew that it was a more offensive league and they let the kids play and make mistakes.
“He’s a playmaker who likes to use his linemates a lot. He decided that it was time to move on to another league for a year and we felt the BCHL was the best fit for him.”
For Philippe, the choice came down to opportunity and the belief that Trail head coach Jeff Tambellini showed in him.
“He has a lot of confidence in me to give me the responsibility of coming in as a third-year guy,” said Philippe. “Being able to play my style of game in the BCHL seemed like a better fit for me. There’s been a lot of guys that have moved on through the college route and into the pros coming out of the BCHL. It just felt right.”
The belief that Tambellini has in Lapointe was clear from the start as he made him the team captain all the way back in May.
“Once you meet Philippe in person, you understand why I picked him as captain,” said Tambellini. “He is one of the most professional and driven players that I have met in junior hockey. His work ethic on and off the ice is everything I want instilled in our organization and I believe he is the right man to lead us through the playoff war this season.”
Unfortunately for Lapointe and the Smoke Eaters, his BCHL career hasn’t gotten off to an ideal start as he was injured in the team’s first preseason game and has yet to suit up for the team.
For most, this would be viewed as a setback and the player would just be biding his time until he was healthy enough to return, but Lapointe has a different outlook.
“It was tough being sidelined and not being able to help out the team,” he said. “But while I’ve been out, I’ve been able to learn a lot about the game and look at it with a different perspective and sometimes that’s good. Obviously, I would have liked to have been back sooner, but sometimes it’s good to get those different views and and see what’s working and what’s not.”
Trail’s season has been a bit of a roller coaster so far. The team lost their first six games of the season, then proceeded to win their next nine in a row to climb into third place in the Interior Division.
The good news for the Smoke Eaters is that they’ve announced that Lapointe will return to the lineup and make his BCHL regular-season debut tonight against the West Kelowna Warriors.
Needless to say, he is eager to get back in the lineup and he expects to have an immediate effect on the team.
“I want to be able to impact games and be one of the guys to make a difference,” he said. “I want to be one of the guys that drives the team. I feel like I’ll be another piece to that puzzle that will give us success going on in the year.”
Beyond this season with Trail, Lapointe is committed to the University of Michigan for the 2020-21 season. Even though has dad went the Major Junior route on his way to the NHL, he now sees the benefits of choosing college hockey instead.
“I think it’s a great way to go, especially if you need time to develop if you’re a late-bloomer,” said Martin. “The advantage that the NCAA offers is you have a plan B at the end of your playing career. If hockey doesn’t work out, you have a degree and you can go work.
“Having less games and more practices with more time to spend in the gym to get stronger, that’s really important.”
When Philippe was making his decision on his NCAA future, just like he has with every other important decision he’s made throughout his hockey career and his entire life, he relied on advice from his dad.
“He’s always told me the truth,” said Philippe. “He’s a straight-shooter when it comes to my game. When I was younger, he always just wanted me to enjoy the game and have love for the game. Having a dad that played in the profession, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s been around the game for such a long time and he’s always been an important part of my career.”