As Luke Evangelista stepped out of the tunnel and under the lights of Bridgestone Arena last Tuesday, an outburst of cheers erupted from section 118.
The source of the commotion: Luke’s mother Margaret, father Andrew, sisters Maria and Sophia and a surplus of family and friends.
“We’re pretty intense,” Andrew Evangelista said with a laugh. “We tell our family and friends that during a hockey game we’re bad company if one of our kids are playing. We’re focused and we’re just locked in… And if you talked to our daughters, they would say we’re loud.”
Of course, that night there would be no need for any disclaimers of intensity.
The Evangelistas, who’d made a nearly 800-mile trip from Toronto to Nashville, had come all that way to see their 21-year-old son make his National Hockey League debut and certainly weren’t going to be quiet about it.
“We’re just super excited, to be honest,” Margaret Evangelista said. “He’s been working toward this dream for probably 16 years now and to see it come to fruition at this moment really makes you think back on all the people that have helped them get here. And it’s not just us and his sisters, but it’s his billet mom and the organizations and the coaches and players that he’s played with… There’s a lot of gratitude and we just feel he’s very lucky and blessed to be getting up every morning and doing something that he loves.”
According to mom and dad, that love for the game began when Luke was just 4 years old and from that point grew at an unstoppable clip.
Luke never complained about an early rise for practice or an extra workout at the rink, and instead took every opportunity he could to grow as a player.
The Nashville Predators, it would seem, took notice and in 2020, the 18-year-old Ontario native heard his name called 42nd overall by the club from Music City.
“Watching this unfold for him – it’s a great moment, for sure, but I think we’ve always realized that every single day he’s been working to get better,” Margaret Evangelista said. “And there’s going to be that continued journey – that journey is not over. So we’re just excited to continue to support him through it and ride the highs with him and help him through the lows and just keep going.”
To be certain, Evangelista’s path to the NHL has been marked by highs and lows.
In his first season with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, the young forward recorded just two points through 27 appearances, though in the season following, performed at a nearly point-per-game pace, recording 61 points (23g-38a) through 62 contests.
The season after that, Evangelista – serving as the Knights’ captain – led the OHL in goals (55) and his own club in goals, assists (56), points (111) and plus-minus (+29), becoming the 21st skater in franchise history to net 50 goals in a single season and receiving a nod to the league’s 2021-22 Second All-Star Team.
Prior to his call-up to Nashville, Evangelista led the Milwaukee Admirals in points with 41 (9g-32a) through 49 contests and all American Hockey League rookies in assists. The impressive offensive production earned the rookie a nod to his first AHL All-Star Classic alongside teammates Tommy Novak and Yaroslav Askarov.
The Evangelistas – who watched their son log 15 minutes of ice time, two shots and a crushing hit on Pittsburgh Penguins veteran Evgeni Malkin last week – expect a similar trajectory for Luke in the NHL.
If Margaret and Andrew’s 21 years of insight – or Evangelista’s three points (2g-1a) in four NHL appearances – are to be trusted, Smashville should expect the same.
“It’s a new chapter,” Andrew Evangelista said. “He went to London and after three years he loved the organization and the charities that he took part in. He became the captain of that organization after a very tough rookie season, and we’re looking forward to seeing that same development [with the Preds] the more time he spends here. And he loves it here, so it’s a great beginning.”