Tage Thompson has received plenty of advice from his father when it comes to hockey.
Brent Thompson, now coach of Bridgeport in the American Hockey League, had a 14-year playing career. The retired defenseman played 121 NHL games from 1991-97 with the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets and Phoenix Coyotes.
“One of the biggest things that’s stuck with me is he said every day is a tryout and there is always someone trying to take your job,” said Tage, who recently completed his freshman season at the University of Connecticut. “He also said to never be satisfied where you’re at.”
Tage, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound center, wasted little time before heeding his father’s advice. He started his college career on the Huskies’ fourth line against Alabama-Huntsville on Oct. 9, 2015. He wasn’t there long.
“I remember being pretty [mad],” Thompson, 18, said. “I wanted to show everyone they had me in the wrong spot.”
“We started him slow on the fourth line, but he played so well we had to move him up to the first line with Max Letunov and he never moved from that spot,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said of Thompson, who had two assists in the 5-2 win.
Letunov, a freshman forward from Russia, led Connecticut (11-21-4 overall, 6-12-4 Hockey East) with 16 goals, 24 assists and 40 points. Thompson, No. 24 in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings of North American skaters, was second with 14 goals, 18 assists and 32 points.
“It was great playing with him,” Thompson said. “We had a lot of good chemistry going. We’re really good friends too. It was a fun season.”
Thompson had an assist on half of Letunov’s goals, and Letunov had a hand in 11 of Thompson’s goals.
Their connection was especially evident on the power play. Thompson led the NCAA with 13 power-play goals.
“Our power play was set up very similar to how the Washington Capitals set theirs up,” Cavanaugh said. “[Thompson] was in (Alex) Ovechkin’s position. Max, who played (Nicklas) Backstrom’s position, was able to find him quite a bit for one-timers. Tage didn’t miss often. If he gets the puck in space and can one-time it, he can bury it. He also had some goals crashing the net with his big body.
“There was a lot of chemistry there between the two of them.”
Cavanaugh said Thompson has an NHL shot and must take that power-play mentality to 5-on-5 situations.
“He has that mentality when he’s on the power play to get himself in position to shoot the puck,” Cavanaugh said. “He doesn’t do it that much in 5-on-5; he has an extra stick handle or tries to deke it.”
Thompson said he felt more comfortable with the man-advantage, having more time and space on the puck. He scored three goals, all on the power play, in a 5-2 win against then-No. 7 Boston University on Oct. 27.
Prior to playing at Connecticut, Thompson won gold with the United States at the 2015 IIHF U-18 World Championship in Switzerland, playing with fellow 2016 NHL Draft prospects Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk. Thompson also played for Team Plante in the 2015 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, N.Y., on Sept. 24.
Those performances, coupled with a breakout freshman season at UConn, have helped Thompson’s stock.
“He’s a pro player,” NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “For him to go into that program and get the ice time and production he’s getting, he’s getting bigger and stronger and his skating has picked up. He upgraded his skating even though he didn’t need to, so he’s one of these guys who can get in, protect the puck, get it to the net and he’s hard to check.
“As a freshman, to go there and get that ice time, and be given the responsibility that he has, that’s what is impressive.”
Not only are scouts impressed, but Thompson’s work ethic and production have been noticed and appreciated by his father as well.
“I thought the expectations would be to come in, develop and see how he could hang with the stronger, bigger kids at the college level, and he definitely exceeded my expectations at UConn,” Brent Thompson said. “Credit to the coaching staff; they gave him opportunities in key situations and he definitely responded in a good way.
“He had to earn his stripes starting on the fourth line, but it says a lot about his character that he was never satisfied.”