Tyce Thomp­son ‘try­ing to keep up’ with brother Tage

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER - By Lance Lysowski N E WS SPORTS R EPORT ER

On an empty ice sur­face in Syos­set, N.Y., Tyce and Tage Thomp­son faced each other in the same one-on-one broth­erly com­pe­ti­tions that take place on frozen ponds, dimly lit rinks and drive­ways across the globe.

Their hockey games were far from typ­i­cal, though. At the time, their father, Brent, was an as­sis­tant coach with the New York Is­lan­ders and a for­mer NHL de­fense­man. His boys pos­sessed the same pas­sion for the sport, even in their for­ma­tive years.

Tyce, the younger of the two brothers by 21 months, did not pos­sess the height or re­fined skills that would make Tage a first-round draft pick, yet he would not re­lent on the ice. Those bat­tles waged at their father’s office were some of the many moments that de­fined Tyce’s ca­reer.

While Tyce’s un­wa­ver­ing work ethic never went un­no­ticed on some teams, his size pre­vented him from step­ping into the spot­light. Not any­more. The fresh­man winger helped Prov­i­dence College reach the NCAA Frozen Four in Buf­falo, where the Fri­ars lost in the semi­fi­nals to Min­nesota Du­luth, 4-1, Thurs­day in KeyBank Cen­ter.

“Be­ing the younger brother, try­ing to keep up with him, I’ve al­ways had to work harder than he has maybe,” Tyce told The Buf­falo News fol­low­ing Prov­i­dence’s prac­tice Wed­nes­day in KeyBank Cen­ter. “When we’ve been on the ice to­gether I’m al­ways try­ing to keep up with him, which has ben­e­fited me. He’s ob­vi­ously very tal­ented. I’ve tried to do ev­ery­thing as good as him or even bet­ter a lot of times.”

That is not a small en­deavor.

Tage, now 21 years old and 6 feet, 5 inches tall, earned an in­vi­ta­tion to the U.S. Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram in 2014 and played in the World Ju­nior Championship. He was drafted 26th over­all by the St. Louis Blues in 2016 and played 41 games with the team af­ter making his NHL de­but dur­ing

the 2017-18 sea­son.

Tage was traded to the Buf­falo Sabres last July and played 65 games with the team this sea­son be­fore be­ing sent to Rochester, where he has five goals and two as­sists in five games.

Still, Tyce, a 19-year-old right wing for the Fri­ars, has thrived un­der the pres­sure of try­ing to sur­pass his brother’s achieve­ments. Now standing at 6-1, Thomp­son fin­ished his sea­son with eight goals and 17 as­sists with a plus-13 rat­ing in 42 games dur­ing his fresh­man sea­son.

“He’s al­ways had the hard road, if you will,” Brent said dur­ing a phone in­ter­view Thurs­day. “Tage was for­tu­nate to play in the Pro­gram and make the U.S. Na­tional Team, World Ju­niors and all that. Tyce was no slouch. He was al­ways a very good hockey player but never got the ac­co­lades and was sort of over­looked. I think now it’s the same thing. ... It shows a lot about his char­ac­ter. He’s will­ing to work and do any­thing for the team. I love the way he plays.”

That has Tyce po­si­tioned to pos­si­bly be the third mem­ber of his fam­ily drafted in the NHL. Brent, now coach of the AHL’s Bridge­port Sound Tigers, was drafted 39th by the Los An­ge­les Kings in 1989 and played 14-plus pro­fes­sional seasons, in­clud­ing 121 games in the NHL.

Tyce tore his quadri­ceps mus­cle dur­ing his first sea­son of draft el­i­gi­bil­ity in 2017 and was not among the 217 play­ers cho­sen in Dal­las last June. It did not help that his growth spurt did not ar­rive un­til he joined Dubuque of the USHL, where he scored 12 goals with 20 as­sists in 60 games last sea­son.

“He’s a lit­tle bit of a late de­vel­oper,” Tage said re­cently of Tyce in Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena. “He’s start­ing to grow now. I’m re­ally happy and proud to see how far he’s come, be­cause he’s the hardest worker you’ll ever find. He’s been over­looked on most teams he’s been on and he’s fi­nally got­ten a shot at Prov­i­dence. He’s play­ing great hockey.”

Though Thomp­son was ranked the up­com­ing draft’s 123rd best North Amer­i­can skater in the NHL Cen­tral Scout­ing mid­sea­son rank­ings, he will likely be rated higher when the league’s fi­nal prospect list is re­leased Mon­day and could be among those in­vited to the draft com­bine May 31 in Buf­falo.

The younger Thomp­son has thrived while play­ing on Prov­i­dence’s sec­ond line and has con­trib­uted on the team’s power play. He scored one goal and added two as­sists in a 6-3 win dur­ing a first-round vic­tory over Min­nesota State Mankato, and was de­scribed by coach Nate Lea­man as a “coach’s dream.”

“I think he’s about as com­plete a fresh­man as I’ve seen as far as un­der­stand­ing all as­pects of the game,” Lea­man said Wed­nes­day. “I mean, ob­vi­ously it comes a lot from his father be­ing an Amer­i­can League head coach. ... He’s had a very suc­cess­ful sea­son. He’s been a big part. What­ever line we put him with, that line plays well.”

Tyce was born fol­low­ing Brent’s fi­nal sea­son with the Hart­ford Wolf Pack, and his father would play six more years with stops in Louisville, Hershey, Colorado and Prov­i­dence. Brent’s full-time coach­ing ca­reer be­gan with Peo­ria in 2005-06, and the fam­ily has since moved to An­chor­age, Alaska, Con­necti­cut and Long Is­land.

The fam­ily’s trav­els brought the brothers closer to­gether. Though join­ing a dif­fer­ent youth hockey team in­stantly pro­vided new friend­ships, they al­ways had each other on and off the ice. They were rarely united as team­mates, though.

When each brought a friend to the Is­lan­ders’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity, Tyce and Tage would rather play against each other. On the rare oc­ca­sion they were team­mates, the com­pe­ti­tion had lit­tle chance. Few play­ers their age re­ceived the type of coach­ing that was avail­able to them.

“It’s been great to watch them grow and de­velop,” their father said. “I think that’s prob­a­bly my fa­vorite thing to do, watch my boys play, to see how they have de­vel­oped and ab­sorbed ev­ery­thing. I think their hockey IQ is ex­cel­lent and they’re stu­dents of the game, but Tyce is so self­mo­ti­vated and such a stu­dent of the game. He’ll study his shifts, other peo­ple’s shifts, he’ll watch play­ers. He has a drive. He has an internal drive that’s pretty amaz­ing.”

That al­lowed Tyce to be one of only three fresh­men in Prov­i­dence’s lineup Thurs­day night. Though he fin­ished with only one shot on net, he was on the ice when Josh Wilkins scored the ty­ing power-play goal in the sec­ond pe­riod. That may have been un­think­able to some not long ago. Not to Tyce, though.

When Tyce was pre­par­ing to de­part for college, he vowed to sur­pass the 14 goals Tage scored as a fresh­man at the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necti­cut.

Shortly af­ter step­ping off the ice Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, Tyce sat in the cor­ner of a crowded dress­ing room and mar­veled at the op­por­tu­nity in front of him. He was ex­pressed ex­cite­ment over reach­ing the Frozen Four but spoke pas­sion­ately about want­ing to ac­com­plish what Tage could not dur­ing two seasons at the UConn, win­ning a Na­tional Championship.

Af­ter falling two wins short of that goal, Tyce will wait to hear if his name will be called at June’s draft in Van­cou­ver. He hopes to some­day wage a broth­erly bat­tle in the NHL.

“There has al­ways been that com­pet­i­tive­ness be­tween us and that’s been ben­e­fi­cial for us both,” Tage said. “Him be­ing the younger brother he has to work a lit­tle bit harder to keep up with me. I think we both ben­e­fited from hav­ing each other for sure.”

Harry Scull Jr./Buf­falo News

Tyce Thomp­son skates against Min­nesota Du­luth dur­ing Prov­i­dence’s 4-1 loss in Thurs­day’s Frozen Four semi­fi­nal at KeyBank Cen­ter.

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