March 28, 2023
Thompson is enjoying success with the Golden Knights after a long journey into the NHL

Thompson is enjoying success with the Golden Knights after a long journey into the NHL

After winning the trophy in 2018, the Washington Capitals brought him to their practice facility during their development camp this offseason. Thompson, a then 21-year-old goalie who was invited to camp as an undrafted free agent, watched as Washington’s prospects gazed up close but chose to take his admiration from afar.

“I was just a nobody to be invited,” Thompson said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool’ and then I walked away.”

Four years later, Thompson is no longer a nobody. The 25-year-old rookie is the No. 1 goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights, coincidentally the team that defeated the Capitals in the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals. On Tuesday, he made 19 saves against Washington in a 3-2 overtime win at Capital One Arena.

Embracing an opportunity created by injuries to Robin Lehner and Laurent BrosoitThompson is 6-2-0 with a 2.01 clean sheet average, .934 save percentage and two shutouts in eight games, giving Vegas a 10-2-0 start under Bruce Cassidy in its freshman year.

“I think as a whole team it was the start we wanted,” said Thompson. “It took us a bit to get used to the new system, but since then our team play has improved quite a bit compared to last year. As a goalkeeper, I just like how things have changed and how much easier my game has been.”

Thompson credits Vegas’ playstyle of pressuring opponents in the offensive zone and keeping them out in the defensive zone for much of his early-season success. But he’s done his part with timely saves, like when the Golden Knights went down 11-8 in the second half on Tuesday but conceded a goal in that span.

“He was fantastic,” said the defender Shea Theodore, who went into overtime at 1:35 on Tuesday. “Often he’s been upside down on some Class A chances that we’ve given up. It’s always nice to have him behind us and that we’re comfortable with him there.”

Goaltender was Vegas’ biggest question mark this season after learning in August that Lehner would miss the season following hip surgery. With Brossoit also recovering from hip surgery, Thompson was the standard No. 1 to start the season.

Thompson played in 19 NHL games in the second half of last season, going 10-5-3 with a 2.68 GAA, .914 save percentage and one shutout. But it was unclear if he could handle the workload of a No. 1 goaltender, so Vegas acquired Adin Hill in an Aug. 30 trade with the San Jose Sharks for support.

Video: [email protected]: Thompson stops all 29 shots in 4-0 win

Hill also got off to a strong start (4-0-0, 1.72 GAA and .940 save percentage), but Thompson’s No. 1 job appears to be losing, although Brossoit is close to returning after beginning a condition loan to Henderson did the American Hockey League on Monday.

“You see all this noise and what every expert and data analyst had to say about me, and it definitely just motivates me to do what I did and prove people wrong,” Thompson said. “But I really enjoy playing ice hockey every day.”

This approach served Thompson well as he was not drafted despite a solid major junior career with Brandon of the Western Hockey League. Vegas initially gave him a look as an invite to the expansion team’s first development and rookie camps in 2017, but chose not to sign him.

After his final season with Brandon in 2017-18, Thompson was invited to the Capitals’ developmental and rookie camps. It was then that he met the Capitals’ goalie coach Scott Murray and their minor league goalie coach Alex Westlund (now Detroit Red Wings goalie coach).

“Realistically, I don’t think I would be here today if it weren’t for these two,” Thompson said.

But Washington had six goalies under contract at the time and no space to sign Thompson. After failing to find an ECHL team to take him, Thompson went to Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario to major in sports management.

“I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to have some fun, be a college kid and go party and just be a kid again,'” Thompson said. “Fortunately, we had a pretty good hockey program at Brock. (Coach) Marty Williamson put together a pretty good team that year so we won games and I had a lot of fun and I wasn’t thinking about the NHL or anything.”

After an 18-6-0 with a 2.22 GAA, .934 save percentage and three shutouts at Brock, Thompson was named Ontario University Athletics Goalie of the Year and Rookie of the Year. That led to an amateur tryout contract with Adirondack, the New Jersey Devils’ ECHL affiliate, after his college season was over.

Thompson made eight games with the Adirondack (2-4-1, 2.72 GAA, .918 save percentage) and one with Binghamton in the AHL (22 saves in a 5-2 loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and was previously recovered Signed his first professional contract with Hershey, the Capitals AHL subsidiary.

Thompson spent the 2019-20 season with South Carolina in the ECHL, sharing the net with minor league veteran Parker Milner. In Thompson, Milner saw raw ability, height (6ft 4, 205 pounds) and athleticism. Murray and Westlund helped Thompson capitalize on those assets by honing his technical play.

What impressed Milner most, however, was Thompson’s work ethic and mental toughness.

“The ECHL is just a really good training ground,” said Milner. “It tests you mentally. The schedule is brutal. He supported me and often followed me back-to-back on the second night. He wouldn’t be the first to fall behind, that can happen pretty easily, and he just had that mental strength and level of competition to not shy away from these challenges, but to really step up and play even better during them.

“For me, that’s the biggest thing that makes guys different and can take them to the next level.”

Thompson was 23-8-1 with 2.25 GAA, .929 save percentage and three shutouts in 32 games in 2019-20 before the ECHL season was ended by the coronavirus pandemic. But his play sparked the interest of the Golden Knights and general manager Kelly McCrimmon, the coach and GM during Thompson’s first two seasons with Brandon. They signed him on July 13, 2020 to a two-year entry-level deal.

Thompson was 16-6-1 with a 1.96 GAA, .943 save percentage and two shutouts in 23 games with Henderson to win the 2020-21 Baz Bastien Memorial Award for the AHL’s top goaltender. He also made his NHL debut with Vegas in a relief appearance against the Minnesota Wild on March 10, 2021.

A bigger NHL opportunity came in the second half of last season. Although the injury-plagued Golden Knights failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that experience and playing for Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Championship in Finland reinforced Thompson’s belief that he belonged in the NHL.

“I didn’t see him act last year, except in the movies over the summer, but what struck me is his confidence,” Cassidy said. “He has some boasting in the net. He’s a good athlete but he’s still composed and has good technical value in his game for a young man.”

Thompson admits his rise to the top has been rapid since signing his first professional contract three years ago. But having previously struggled to find a place to play, he doesn’t take having one with Vegas for granted.

Maybe at some point it will lead to him being back in the same room with the Stanley Cup.

“It [stinks] if you don’t get drafted or you’re always told you’re not good enough,” Thompson said. “You have to use that as motivation. There are tons of experienced hockey players out there, but it definitely takes effort and that’s one thing I’m happy with for how hard I’ve worked.

“And I won’t stop.”

#Thompson #enjoying #success #Golden #Knights #long #journey #NHL

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *