Tyce Thompson ‘trying to keep up’ with brother Tage
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.”
Tyce Thompson skates against Minnesota Duluth during Providence’s 4-1 loss in Thursday’s Frozen Four semifinal at KeyBank Center.