THE plan was that John Tripp would become the first person in his family to go to university. Instead, he became an NHL ice-hockey player, an Olympian and a cancer survivor.

The 40 year-old’s journey to his current position as head coach of Glasgow’s professional ice hockey team, Braehead Clan, has been quite incredible and has included playing alongside Hall of Famers in the NHL, competing in a Winter Olympics in his home country of Canada and being a part of the German national side that beat USA in front of a world record-breaking 78,000 strong crowd at the 2010 World Championships.

In his early years, Tripp was not destined to become an athlete. His grandparents emigrated from Germany to Canada but when he was growing up in Kingston, Ontario, sport was never a priority. But as a kid with too much energy and a healthy dose of competitive spirit, his mum enrolled him into a range of sports classes, including a figure skating one.

Tripp may not have found his calling in figure skating, but it did provide an avenue into ice-hockey. “At the start, I really wasn’t a very good hockey player,” he said. “I was tall and skinny and I wasn’t the most skilful but I had the drive and that’s what made the difference. It was drive and hard work that ultimately got me to where did.”

At the age of just 15, Tripp left home to pursue a career in ice hockey – he moved almost 300 miles from his parents home to London, Ontario. It was not, as one can well imagine, all plain sailing. But the age of 20, Tripp turned professional and in his first season, played over 60 games for Saint John Flames in the AHL.

However, having had considerable success in his late teens, he was brought back down to earth with a bump. And it was then that the doubts began to creep in. But he bounced back and made the step up to the big time in 2002, signing for the NHL side, the New York Rangers before moving the following season to the Los Angeles Kings. Becoming an NHL player was, admits Tripp, the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.

“Coming from Canada, making it to the NHL is what you want to do,” he said. “And having had those failures in my past, when I got success, it made me so much more appreciative of everything. To get to the NHL was really awesome – as a Canadian growing up, everyone wanted at least one game in the NHL and I got that. It was a very cool experience. I have a lot of memorable moments but a lot of it is about the process to get there – you work your whole life for it.”

The NHL lock-out, which saw the 2004/05 season cancelled, prompted Tripp to move to Germany, the home land of his grandparent and it was then he made the commitment to become a German citizen and thus become eligible for the German national team.

It was a decision he would never regret, as his time in the national team saw him represent Germany at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, as well as play in a home word championships where he was part of a world-breaking game in terms of crowd size. “The Olympics were amazing,” he said. “And the World Championships in Germany were unbelievable. Playing in front of 78,000 fans was electrifying and we finished fourth in the world which was phenomenal for a German team.”

As with almost every ice hockey player on the planet, Tripp has had his fair share of injuries, including multiple surgeries and having his front teeth knocked out. But his most serious heath scare came in 2005, when it was discovered that he had melanoma. It was caught early, but two years later, it returned and what Tripp describes as a “chunk” was removed from his shoulder.

He is quick to point out how fortunate he was to have found his cancer early but nevertheless, it is a scary time. “It was tough – I was at the doctor regularly and over the course of six or seven years, I had about 60 moles cut out my body and there’s always that wait to hear the result,” he said. “But I was very fortunate – I didn’t need to go through chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

“You do have moments when you wonder if you have cancer because there’s so many things you can’t get checked. I think I have it regulated but whatever comes, you just have to deal with it.”

Tripp decided there and then though that he was going to use his standing as a professional athlete to help others with cancer, founding the Tripp Charity to help kids with cancer. “We make all of this money as players so I feel like we have a responsibility to help the community,” he said. “I’ve raised about €200,000. I feel like we, as professional athletes, really should use our position to help others.”

Tripp retired from professional ice-hockey before moving into coaching, first of all with a German second division side before joining Braehead Clan last May. His first season has produced mixed results but Tripp is confident that he will be a success in this new field.

“My biggest fear, and it’s what pushes me to be better, is that there aren’t a lot of successful coaches who have played the game,” he said. “But I will have success as a coach – I did as a player and I have in my head that I will be successful. I believe I know what I’m doing so time will tell.”