By Erica Whyte
For someone who approaches nearly seven feet with skates on, newcomer Tage Thompson has done a pretty good job at blending into the Amerks lineup.
With seven points (5+2) in his first five games, including a three-point debut and both goals in the Amerks’ most recent win over the Cleveland Monsters, the 21-year-old forward has quickly proven himself as an invaluable asset in Rochester’s quest for the Calder Cup.
And after spending the majority of the 2018-19 season in Buffalo, where he tallied 12 points (7+5) in 65 games, Thompson is just happy he is helping to contribute to Rochester’s win column.
WATCH: THOMPSON AFTER PRACTICE ON MARCH 28
“You want to come in and do the best you can, and I know what I’m capable of, and for me, helping the team win means providing offense,” said the 6-foot-6 Phoenix, Arizona, native who joined the Amerks roster at the end of March. “I’ve got great guys I’m playing with, and the team has had success all year, which makes everything easier as well.”
Although his NHL stats don’t reflect it (yet), Thompson’s goal-scoring abilities are what, according to him, provide the winger his biggest advantage.
“I’m a big power forward, I’ve got good offensive ability and I think my shot is probably by biggest asset,” he said of his skill-set. “I’m still trying to round out the defensive side of my game and play a full 200-foot game, but offense is where I thrive.”
However, Amerks head coach Chris Taylor insists that Thompson’s size is what makes him a real standout, in more ways than one.
WATCH: THOMPSON POST-GAME ON MARCH 29
"His size and his reach are unbelievable,” said Taylor of Thompson, who often towers over both his teammates and opponents. “He can keep guys to the outside, and the puck can be six feet on the other side and there’s no way they can knock it off. It’s a huge advantage and we’ve got to make sure he’s using his body for every situation.”
“He’s a guy that can make a big difference in our game,” continued Taylor, who coached Thompson in Sabres Development Camp and Prospects Challenge last summer. “He can take the puck and make things happen with it. He’s a guy that also, defensively, can use his reach for penalty kill. He’s a game breaker, and those are the type of players we want.”
Although Taylor is looking to fine-tune some of his skills, Thompson’s hockey sense and ability have been curated through an entire lifetime of living and breathing hockey.
“My dad was an assistant coach for the Islanders for two years, and I remember I’d always be around the locker room,” Thompson explained of his father, Brent Thompson. After a 15-year playing career with the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes, Brent began a 14-year coaching career. He is currently the head coach of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate for the last few decades.
And the father-son duo aren’t the only hockey players in the Thompson family. Tage’s younger brother, Tyce, plays for Providence College, and is currently competing in the Frozen Four, which is being hosted at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
According to Thompson, having a little brother who shared his love of the game made all the difference.
“We’re only 19 months apart, and being from a hockey family, hockey is kind of at the forefront of everything. We moved a lot, which was tough, but with him, being so close in age and having similar interests, it made those moves a lot easier.”
“I don’t know if it’s too good to publicize this, but we would always skip school and go to the rink in the morning with my dad. We’d go on the ice before practice then the guys would come on, and we’d get off and watch, then once they were done, we would jump back on. We’d be at the rink for hours. That was something me and him loved to do.”
Thompson and his hockey bloodline are just the most recent addition to the group of Amerks players who also share that same family background. Alexander Nylander, Dalton Smith, Lawrence Pilut and assistant coach Gord Dineen were all the sons of hockey players, giving them each an early taste of hockey life, but also a longtime understanding of the nomadic nature of this unique career field.
“My dad has been traded, signing with different teams, coaching for different teams as well.” explained Thompson of his dad, who played on seven different teams before Tage’s 10th birthday. “With hockey, you’re always on the move, and that has been our lifestyle since I was born.”
And just like some of his new teammates, Thompson has many early memories of interacting with hockey greats.
“I remember meeting Kyle Okposo when my dad was with the Islanders,” said Thompson, “and as it turns out, five or six years later, I end up on the same team and playing on the same line for a few games, which is pretty crazy and something that I never would have thought have happened.”
Thompson brothers, Tyce (left), and Tage (right), pictured with Kyle Okposo (middle). Photo provided by Tage Thompson.
“Stuff like that has happened a lot, running into guys that my dad either played with or coached, and now I’m playing against them. It’s bizarre and cool all at the same time.”
As for the one person that Thompson hopes to one day share the ice with? His original teammate, his baby brother.
“Hopefully our paths will cross again one day, maybe we will play on the same team or play against each other. That’s been a dream for both of us for a while.”