Thompson captains a top-notch team

By Janine Pilkington

The Providence Bruins have not yet reached the halfway mark of the 2007-08 season, but it’s clear that forward Nate Thompson has figured out what it will take to get to the next level. He exudes the confidence of a player that not only knows his role, but has found his stride, and he is all smiles when he talks about the early success of his team.

“Everyone on our team has a good work ethic — it kind of spreads around the team and everyone’s bought into our system early,” he explained. “Everyone’s doing little things, even if they aren’t a skilled goal scorer, they’re still blocking shots and hitting. We’ve got a team where we clicked right away.”

This year’s squad has the right balance of skill and grit. Contributions have come from the entire lineup, no small feat in the ever-changing roster of an NHL farm team. The importance of players who are able to step in and help out the team at a moment’s notice can not be emphasized more, and Thompson points to this area as another reason for his team’s success.

“Guys are jumping on board right away — you can’t say enough about the guys that have been called up, or the goalies that have come in and played. They’ve done a great job, like they’ve been [playing] here the whole year.”

Thompson is in his third professional season, and he’s played all but four of his pro games with the Providence Bruins (he made his NHL debut Oct. 21, 2006). His hard work and the continued improvement in his performance have helped him earn the trust of both his coaches and his teammates. He’s the type of player who will be on the ice in a critical moment of the game. He knows what it takes to help swing the momentum in his team’s favor. Though he’s not necessarily looked upon to generate offense, that too has improved this season, and he’s on pace to beat his point totals from each of the previous two years. The energy he brings to the lineup has made him invaluable, and in the short span of his professional career, Thompson has matured tremendously.

“He always provides great energy, whether it’s hits, fights or skating, or getting in the forecheck,” said Providence Head Coach Scott Gordon. “What I’ve really liked is the 60 minutes of consistency we’re getting from him — last year he could play a good game and then have a lapse, and we haven’t seen that much this year.”

That consistency, that willingness to give his all on every shift, is a big part of what led to his captaincy this year. Thompson admits to some surprise he was chosen, claiming there were other players on the team who could have filled the role, but he’s taken it all in stride. As he speaks, he appears at once positive and upbeat, but with the conviction of someone who is comfortable being a leader, and it’s not difficult to see how he could be a role model for his teammates.

“Leading by example is the biggest thing,” Thompson said. “You can hoot and holler and say what you want, but the biggest thing is leading on the ice, in practice and in games, just bringing the same game every night. The guys see that and hopefully they follow.”

Thompson’s individual success has not gone unnoticed, and it seems only a matter of time before he gets another shot with the big club. His gritty, edgy, high-energy style of play should translate well to the NHL. The coaching staff has continued to help him refine his game and expand the possibilities for his future career, which has included moving him to wing.

“He’s always going to have the ability to play center, but I wanted to give him the opportunity to be versatile so he can go up to Boston and play any position,” explained Coach Gordon. “He’s adapted to that really well, and I found this year he’s been more consistent than all the years put together and all the games he’s played.”

As for the opportunity to play in Boston, it’s not a question of if it will happen so much as when it will happen. The coaching staff in Providence stresses the importance of players knowing their role, and not becoming overly concerned with movement to and from the big club. The choice of who gets the call is not only based on a player’s readiness, but also on the needs of the NHL team at that particular time.

“What it comes down to is the right guy has to go down,” explained the P Bruins coach. “I think he knows he’s not going to replace a top-six guy, but he can certainly replace a bottom-three guy.”

The only thing the 23-year-old can do at this point is to play his game, and of course, help his team continue its winning ways. If he continues to develop in the same upward track, his future will only get brighter. He is a player who clearly takes pride in the early success of the Providence Bruins, but is levelheaded enough to know that the season is far from over. Still, there is no comparison to the feeling that comes when your team sitting on the top of the league.

“Other teams know that whenever they play against us, we’re coming at them hard, and it’s a lot of fun playing that way,” said Thompson. “Teams have a tough time handling us, so that’s definitely our team identity. We want to play like that for the whole season.”