BY: Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
STORRS, CT – The long hours and years of hard work are about to pay off for UConn‘s Tage Thompson.
The poised winger, listed at 6’5 has the potential to be drafted in the first round of the NHL’s Entry Draft on Friday night in Buffalo, New York at the First Niagara Center. The draft will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network starting at 7 pm.
The Thompson clan will be all be on hand, including his parents (Brent and Kim), as well as his grandparents. They’ll all be there except for his younger brother, Tyce, who is attending the US-17 Development camp in nearby Amherst. The coach of that team is Hartford Wolf Pack assistant coach, and assistant GM, Pat Boller.
Maybe he’ll be excused to head over to see the big moment?
“It’s very exciting to be projected in the first round,” said Thompson. “I’ve dreamt of it, my entire life, and now it’s starting to become a reality. It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind lately, but we’re hoping for the first round, and we’ll see where Friday takes us. I’ll just be happy whoever selects me,”
At age 18, Thompson has been hard at work in the off-season, weight training, and following a nutritional plan to add some weight to his already impressive size.
“I’d say I’m in pretty good shape right now. I’ve been training all summer; I was up at UConn during May, and I can feel myself getting stronger, putting on some weight. I think I am ready for this. I’d like to be between 200 and 205 [pounds] before the (Hockey East) season starts. Right now, I’m at 195.” Thompson said.
Last year playing as true freshmen, he formed one of college hockey’s most potent power play combos with center Maxim Letunov. Thompson led the nation in power play goals with 13, en route to posting a total of 14 along with 18 assists in 36 games. Thompson has the ability, as big as he is, to consistently find a way to be in the right position to release his rocket of a shot.
“It was a natural connection,” Thompson said of playing with Letunov. “We knew where each other was and playing with him helped me as a player.”
Thompson is currently a resident of Orange, Connecticut. He grew up in a hockey environment. His father, Brent, was a former, Wolf Pack defenseman who had a 14-year pro career. Currently, the elder Thompson is the head coach of the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the New York Islanders’ top farm team. Having a father with Brent’s experience and teaching ability has been a great lifelong resource at his disposal that few others rarely have.
“It’s obviously helped so much to have a father who has played the game and is now into coaching. He’s been around the sport his entire life and growing up with him helped show me what it takes to get there. He’s given me advice that’s had a huge impact on my game and development. And his competitiveness is definitely a part of who I am as a player.” remarked Thompson.
Brent is on his second tour of duty as the head coach of the Sound Tigers. He played 121 NHL games in his career and took part in 635 AHL games, of which 153 were with the Wolf Pack in their first two seasons. Brent was a second round pick, 39th overall, in 1987 by the L.A. Kings while playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL).
Thompson has his father’s frame but a bit more angular than bulk, but his hockey idols give a key to his mindset.
He admires Evgeni Malkin of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as Jeff Carter (LA) and Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars). Certainly not a bad trio to emulate.
Thompson will be among several second generation players likely to be drafted in the first round. One of those will be Alexander Nylander, (Missuagua Steelheads OHL), the son of ex-Hartford Whaler and New York Ranger, Michael Nylander. Another is Logan Brown (Windsor Spitfires, OHL) the son of former NHL’er Jeff Brown, and Matt Tkachuk, the son of 19-year veteran Keith Tkachuk. The younger Tkachuk scored the Memorial Cup winning goal in OT for the London Knights (OHL) and of course Kieffer Bellows, the son of Brian Bellows, from the USNDTP (US National Development Team Program). Bellows will attend Boston University in the fall.
Thompson also has had access to the hockey community over the years including his father’s trusted assistant coach and West Haven native, Eric Boguniecki, who played his prep school hockey at Gunnery and Westminster and had been invaluable to him.
“He has played the game in the NHL (178 games, and 341 points in 351 AHL games) and I’ve been able to talk with him to get advice on certain aspects of the game that you could only get from somebody with experience,” Thompson stated.
Thompson came to UConn via the USNDTP program which now operates out of Plymouth, Michigan. He plays in the Junior A USHL (United States Hockey League) and a fellow former teammate and Connecticut native from Ridgefield, Chad Krys; a defenseman who’s also a projected first round pick. Krys is heading to Boston University, and the two have been training together.
“We have been working out down here (Fairfield County), and he is top flight player himself,”
As tempting as it might be, even in jest, there haven’t been any side bets on who gets drafted first between the two pals.
“No, no,” Thompson said with a laugh. “I wish him the best.“
The two were at the NHL Combines, for a strictly off the ice, dry land situation, and no skating in the evaluation process.
“For the first few days, we met with all the teams, interviewed with their staff and so on so they could have an opportunity to get to know you,” Thompson said. “Then they put us through all sorts of tests, like the long jump, vertical leap, stuff like that. There was no skating at all, just all off-ice things.”
The decision to go to UConn as a true freshman last year was not an easy decision for the then 17-year-old when he arrived at Storrs.
“There was a certain wow factor playing against 24-year-old men. There was an adjustment to that, and I got more comfortable as the year went on.”
UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh’s trust in his prized freshmen on one of the youngest Division I teams in the country, was not unnoticed by Thompson.
“I’m in a really good spot here at UConn They’ve given me many opportunities to be successful. I feel comfortable with the coaching staff, my teammates, and I feel like we’re going to have a solid team next year. Coach showed his faith in me by trusting me, even though I was young coming in. There were growing pains he had to work with (with me) along the way.”
In addition to the joy coming tomorrow night, Thompson was selected on Monday to take part in next month’s trip to Michigan as a part of the 42 player World Junior Championship Evaluation Camp. The highly regarded Christmas time (December 26-January 5) tournament will be held in Toronto and Montreal this year. The Pool A Group the US is in will play in Toronto and games at the Air Canada Centre.
Thompson, who has dual citizenship, said college, not Canadian major junior, was the preferred route for him and that he will be back for his sophomore season at UConn, only he’ll return with an NHL jersey to sport with his name on it.
Thompson’s teammate, defenseman Joseph Masonius (Spring Lake, NJ), is also draft eligible. Masonius was also named to the WJC Evaluation Camp next month.
The last time the NHL Draft took place in Buffalo was in 1991 and was held in the old Aud. That year, there were two Connecticut natives drafted. The first was Mike Pomichter of North Haven. He played at Boston University and was chosen by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. The other selection was former Wolf Pack, Todd Hall. He was taken by the Hartford Whalers in the third round out of The University of New Hampshire.
Thompson’s linemate, Letunov had his NHL rights dealt for the second time on Monday as the Arizona Coyotes sent his rights to the San Jose Sharks along with a 2017 6th round pick for the Sharks 2016 4th round pick this year and 3rd round pick next year.
Letunov was originally drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2014 in the second round, 52nd overall. St. Louis sent Letunov to Arizona for D Zybnek Michalek and last year’s third-round pick.
The 6’2 swift skating and puckhandling Russian came to UConn after changing his mind and rescinding his commitment to Boston University. He was named to the All-Hockey-East Rookie Team and selected to the All-Conference second team. Letunov set the Huskies record for regular season points.
Letunov played US junior hockey with the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) and then the Swift Current Broncos (WHL) selected him in the first round, 36th overall, in the 2014 CHL Import Draft. The Moscow native saw the Russian team, Salavat Yulaev, select him in the KHL Draft in 2013.
Enfield native Robbie Baillargeon might have achieved a college hockey first. As a graduate transfer from Boston University to Arizona State, under current NCCA guidelines, Baillargeon can play this season only as an undergraduate or would have to wait a year. Grad transfers have happened in football and college baseball.
In Hockey East news, goalie Patrick “Packy” Munson has left the University of Vermont and headed back home to Minnesota. Rumors were that he was going to transfer to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, but he decided on the University of Denver.
Two more underclassmen from college hockey have signed with NHL clubs this week.
Boston College lost big defenseman Ian McCoshen to the Florida Panthers, and would likely see him start the season with the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL).
RW Nick Schmaltz of the national champion, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks (nee Fighting Sioux), has signed with the Chicago Blackhawks and will start next year with the Rockford IceHogs (AHL).
Jimmy Vesey of Harvard could be a third to sign an NHL deal. The much-heralded left-winger has his four-year degree in hand. He had his rights traded from the Nashville Predators to the Buffalo Sabres, who gave up a third round pick. Vesey has elected under the CBA rules to become a free agent, so Buffalo enters the same sweepstakes as the rest of the NHL to win his rights. Toronto is one of the biggest players in that pursuit and just made his father Jim Vesey, a team scout after drafting his brother Nolan (University of Maine) last year, The Rangers and Boston Bruins are both considered to be players in the Vesey Sweepstakes.
35 Division 1 underclassmen have signed professional deals thus far, 143 players in total have departed for the pro ranks since the end of last year’s collegiate season among the five college hockey conferences.
North Dakota, Michigan, and Boston College have lost the most with five underclassmen each.
Former Yale Bulldog, and Bridgeport Sound Tiger, Jesse Root, heads overseas to HC Bolzano in Italy. HC Bolzano plays in the Austrian Elite League. Root spent most of the last year with the Missouri Mavericks (ECHL) and just seven games in Bridgeport.
At the US U-17 Select Camp, Pat Boller is not the only HWP connection. As mentioned, Boller is the head coach, but one of the goalie coaches is none other than ex-Wolf Pack, Phil Osaer. The Team’s GM is Danbury native, Kenny Rausch, who played at Immaculate High School. Besides Tyce Thompson, one other Connecticut prep school player invited was Ben Mirageas of Avon Old Farms.
Our condolences on the passing of Michigan State’s great head coach Ron Mason, who dies earlier this month at age 76. Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, MI was the site of the memorial service and honored the second all-time winningest coach in college hockey history (Jerry York BC is tops). Mason had a career record of 924-380-83. Mason also coached at Lake Superior State and Bowling Green University and played at St. Lawrence University in the early 1960’s.
His son-in-law was Shawn Walsh of the University of Maine and his grandson, Travis Walsh, just graduated from Michigan State. Travis went undrafted and played three games apiece with the Missouri Mavericks (ECHL) and the Chicago Wolves (AHL). Tyler Walsh is an assistant coach with the USNDTP U-18 Team.
Photos Courtesy Of UConn Athletic Department