Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Nate Thompson to play in native Alaska during lockout

Even for a professional athlete, there is something to be said for fulfilling a childhood dream.

Take Lightning center Nate Thompson, who during the NHL lockout will play for the minor-league Alaska Aces in his hometown, Anchorage.

Thompson grew up watching the Aces and the University of Alaska Anchorage play at Sullivan Arena. So to lace up the skates in a venue with so many memories and to play in front of his parents and friends, well, what could be better?

"I went to games every weekend," Thompson said. "I was part of the booster clubs. To be able to play in the rink I grew up in is going to be pretty neat."

Beyond that, Thompson's choice is interesting.

The Aces play in the East Coast league, two rungs below the NHL. Salaries for players with 25 pro games of experience start at $425 a week, teams have a $12,400 weekly salary cap, and Thompson will pay for his insurance.

And because of their location, the Aces travel to most games by plane, taking commercial flights with food for purchase. That's quite a difference from the free steak, pasta and fish options on Lightning charters, on which every seat is first class, another reason NHLers are jokingly called "silver spooners" by their minor-league brethren.

Even so, Thompson said, "For me it's important. I grew up here, and it's a pretty tight-knit community, especially the hockey community. Maybe I can help a young guy on the way while I'm doing this. And they're helping me, too, having a spot for me and being able to play."

And that is what it comes down to.

Anchorage native Scott Gomez played for the Aces during the 2004-05 lockout and in 2005-06 with the Devils had career bests of 33 goals and 84 points. Gomez, now with the Canadiens, said Sullivan Arena's Olympic-size ice surface, which is bigger than the NHL's, "helps your skating. It builds you confidence in the fact that you're creating (plays)." And the minor-league lifestyle, including often playing three games in three nights "brings you back to being a kid again."

"It makes it fun again," said Gomez, who is practicing but not playing with the Aces. "You appreciate where you're at. And like I told Nate, the people back in Alaska, you can't put into words how appreciative they are for the local boys to give back to the community. You find the love again."

That shouldn't be difficult for Thompson, 28, one of the Lightning's hardest workers and best penalty killers, who in 68 games last season had nine goals and 15 points.

"He's not going to think of himself as above these guys," said Aces coach Rob Murray, who coached Thompson from 2005-08 at AHL Providence in the Bruins system. "He's going to work just as hard in practice, and when the season starts, he's going to give everything he's got. He's not going to change his game."

"When you're out there with the guys and it's all said and done, you're on the same team and you all play hockey and you have that in common," Thompson said. "Once we get going, I'm sure I'll be just another guy on the Alaska Aces."

McBAIN PLEADS GUILTY: Former Lightning defenseman Mike McBain pleaded guilty in Las Vegas to attempted sexual assault and attempted lewdness with a child. McBain, 35, whom the Lightning drafted in 1995's second round , was accused of sexually assaulting a girl younger than 14 over four years. He is free on $75,000 bail pending sentencing Jan. 30. McBain, with Tampa Bay from 1997-99, finished his career with ECHL Las Vegas from 2003-08.

talks resume: Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly met with union head Donald Fehr and special counsel Steve Fehr at the union office in Toronto for about two hours Friday, the sides' first session since talks broke off Tuesday. The sides said they had general discussions about how to move the process forward and will be in contact over the weekend.

Blues: The team and president of operations John Davidson said they amicably agreed to part ways.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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