Thompson Keeps It Close To Home
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
For as long as he can remember, Paul Thompson has wanted to wear a UNH hockey jersey and call the giant Olympic-sized ice sheet at the Whittemore Center home.
He was eight years old when he first watched his cousin, prolific scorer Mike Souza, wear the navy and white.
Skating since he was three and playing hockey since he was five, he rose through the ranks hoping to one day follow into what has become the family business.
After stops at Pinkerton Academy and the Junior Monarchs along the way, Thompson donned his own UNH sweater 11 years later, skating as a freshman in 2007.
Three years later, he's one of the best players in Hockey East.
“I was always a fan growing up,” said Thompson. “I watched my cousin play here and I always wanted to play here.
“I visited other schools but all along I knew that if UNH offered, there was no way I could turn it down.”
Souza was one of New Hampshire’s all-time greats, finishing his career with 156 points (66 goals, 90 assists) including a 65-point season as a junior.
The last two seasons, Thompson has been following suit.
After 21 points as a freshman and sophomore combined, the 6-foot, 205-pound forward scored 39 points as a junior and leads Hockey East with 25 points in 16 games this season. He’s sixth in the country in scoring, fourth in power-play goals and second in the country in game-winning goals.
But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The right-handed winger has proved to be a scorer at every level, netting 51 goals and 94 points in just 50 games his last year with the Monarchs, being named the EJHL Player of the Year.
At Hockey East’s Christmas break, he’s on pace for 53 points as he anchors the Wildcats’ top line with Phil DeSimone — a Washington Capitals’ third-round pick — and Mike Sislo.
“It’s great playing with those guys,” he said. “Everything on the line runs through Phil and we’ve been playing together for a while so there is a lot of flow with us.”
Thompson has helped lead the Wildcats to the top spot in Hockey East (8-1-2 in conference play and 10-2-4 overall) and a third overall national ranking in the Pairwise.
“We want to win a national championship,” Thompson said. “I think we may have been overlooked at the start of the year but everyone’s goal here is to win a national championship and to only have two losses at the break, if we keep playing like this, we can reach that goal.”
Added UNH head coach Dick Umile, “Thompson is playing great hockey right now along with the rest of that first line. They are very mature, and they lead our team and they always do good things together.”
The line, which has scored 23 of UNH’s 57 goals, has helped replace the loss of Bobby Butler, who was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award last season. Butler, who graduated, signed with the Ottawa Senators last spring and has split time between them and their AHL affiliate in Binghamton.
“I think there is some added pressure from ourselves,” Thompson said. “No one ever said anything or put pressure on us but we wanted to be that line that you could depend on. Playing with those guys has made it easy, too.”
Playing for the hometown team
For some of Thompson’s Canadian teammates, their parents can only come watch them live once, if they’re lucky, each season. Most often family and friends are relegated to internet streams or audio broadcasts.
But for Thompson, playing his college hockey just minutes from where he grew up provides something most players don’t get.
“My parents are able to come to almost every game,” said the 21-year-old winger. “It’s great for them and I’m glad they can do that considering how much they had to sacrifice to allow me to go as far playing hockey as I have.”
It also allows for trips home from time to time.
“Sometimes you need to get away and I can go back and get a nice meal or just hang out,” he said. “It is nice to do that once in a while.”
Time will tell
Leading the league in scoring, Thompson has sparked the interest of the NHL.
“All my focus is on this season right now,” he said. “But of course, I want to play as long as possible and the opportunity to play at some level after this season would be great.”
Looking back, general managers around the NHL are likely kicking themselves for not drafting Thompson out of the EJHL in 2007.
Ranked 72nd among North American skaters that year, Thompson was the highest Central-Scouting player not picked in that year’s draft, meaning he’s an unrestricted free agent.
“I was surprised he didn’t go that year,” said one scout. “But really GMs had just one year to look at. He had one incredible year in the EJ and then one pretty good year, for a rookie and before that he was playing New Hampshire high school hockey and not many (scouts) are watching those games.”
He continued, “I watched him play a lot in juniors and have followed him throughout his NCAA career. He’s proven that he can score at every level. I watched him play at Pinkerton and he was one of the best players on the ice as a sophomore. He has a good shot and has good strength for his size. Not only does he score but he scores big goals. He always seems to get that game-tying or game-winner.”
This article originally appeared in the Eagle-Tribune. It is reprinted with permission.