For Mike Thomson, the past few months have been busy, very busy.
Nearing the end of his senior year at Reading High, Thomson helped guide the Rockets’ to their second straight Middlesex League Liberty Division hockey title and a berth into the MIAA tournament.
At the beginning of this past season, the Rockets were thought to be in a rebuilding process having added 16 new players to their roster from a Super 8 team in 2013. But with the help of Thomson, along with key players like Jake Barbera, Mike Seibold, Sean Verrier and Matt Thomson, they surprised some people and won the division. The Rockets then went on a tear through the Division 1 North tournament defeating higher seeded teams such as St. Mary’s of Lynn and Arlington Catholic.
The Rockets’playoff run was highlighted by an 11-round shootout versus Wilmington in the Division I North finals at Tsongas Center in which Thomson scored the clinching goal in the shootout.
A few day later the Rockets finished off a D-1 state title at the TD Garden by downing South champion Braintree. Despite the Rockets’ success and Thomson’s large part in that success, he drew only modest interest from Division 3 colleges such as Stonehill, Assumption, and St. Anselm. Thomson sat in the locker room after the state championship and removed his Rockets jersey for the final time not knowing what teams’jersey he would wear next.
Two weeks after being crowned a state champion, Thomson (5-11, 170) found himself on the campus of St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Thomson thought he now knew the next hockey jersey he would wear.
This summer as Thomson prepared to become a St. Anselm Hawk, he decided to go to a high school hockey camp run by Dale Dunbar. Dunbar is a former NHL player who played for the Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks. After retirement from the NHL, Dunbar was an assistant coach at UMass Amherst and is now the Winthrop High hockey coach. He is also an NHL agent representing several different players including Matt Neito of the San Jose Sharks, and Zach Bogosian of the Winnipeg Jets.
While skating at the camp, Thomson’s game performance stood out to Dunbar, and Dunbar decided to invite him to another camp he ran alongside Geoff Ward, a former Bruins assistant coach, who had been with the Bruins for the past seven seasons before he resigned this year to become a head coach of Mannheim Eagles in Germany.
When Ward and Dunbar asked Thomson where he was going to play next season, they were surprised that he was going to St. Anselm. Despite St. A’s being a good high Division 3 hockey school, they thought he could do better. They suggested that he take a year and play junior hockey (a gap year where hockey players play on a team as they prepare to play higher level college hockey).
“ I thought his options would open up immensely,” said Dunbar.“I told him that he was awfully young (just turned 18) to take himself off the market and just go to school now. His best hockey could be right in front of him. With the right training, he might become a prospect at the Division 1 level.”
The persuasion worked on Thomson, but his parents needed more convincing, and Dunbar told them what he thought Thomson could be as a hockey player.
“As hockey guys I think they respected (Ward’s) and my opinion,”said Dunbar.“I told them he could always go to St. Anselm’s again. Nothing against St. Anselm’s, it is a great school, but I think Mike’s skill set, with a little more competition, coaching, a longer schedule, and more training, could turn into something at a higher level.”
Just as Thomson was about to send in his deposit for St. Anselm, he decided to pull the plug on college and play junior hockey.
“I think I jumped on the idea of playing college hockey a little too early,”said Thomson, who finished his senior season with a line of 20-16-36.“ I just second-guessed myself. Why not take a year? I am only 18.”
Thomson decided to join the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs out of Manchester, New Hampshire, oddly enough, the same town as St. A’s.
“The Monarchs are a prestigious organization,”said Thomson. “Coach Frew is an awesome guy and he has put a lot of kids in Division 1 schools.”
Ryan Frew, the Monarchs coach and general manager, had seen Thomson play in different summer events the team puts on and was happy to welcome him onto the team despite the fact that he was joining so late.
The Monarchs have won the Eastern Junior Hockey League championship seven times since 2002 and they are coming off of a season where they lost in the championship game. They have also sent players to the top hockey colleges in the country such as Boston College, Boston University, and University of New Hampshire. Some of their players have also gone on to play in the NHL.
Frew has been with the Monarchs since 2004 and has been the head coach of the EJHL team for the past two seasons. Before that he was the head coach and General Manger of the Monarchs’ Junior Empire team. He was the Hockey Night in Boston Coach of the Year in the 2009-2010, and 2011-2012 seasons.
Thomson joining the Monarchs means he is making a full-time commitment to hockey. His season this year will be three times as long as his high school season. In addition to his on-ice hockey training, Thomson will be on a specific diet and workout plan, he will also have to take college classes or work 15 hours a week, and volunteer in the community.
“We try to develop good people,” said Frew. “A lot of these guys are good players, but if you can teach a kid how to be a positive contributing member of society, and what it takes to work out everyday and eat right and get your sleeping patterns right, I think the hockey portion of this takes care of itself. These guys all love the game: they play at a high level. It is all the other intangibles that are important. When we recommend a kid to a college or university we are going to deliver the type of kid I would want in my own locker room.”
“ I think in juniors I will be able to get a lot more looks from schools that I didn’t during my high school season,” said Thomson. “Juniors will also help me mature as a player and a person.
“Playing junior hockey is a big leap from playing high school hockey. “ It is going to be different than high school hockey,” said Thomson. “There is a lot of games, and I will be skating every night, but it should be fun.”
“ In junior hockey the players are bigger, faster, and stronger,” said Frew. “Typically in high school hockey there isn’t the depth that you have in juniors, so everyday in practice these guys are around 24 other guys that are just as good as them. They have to push and work hard every day.”
Getting to play college hockey at a high level is not an exact science. There are many variables that a college will consider before selecting a player. For this reason Thomson’s tenure in junior hockey could last longer than a year.
“(Thomson) is so young, so what is the rush? The finish line comes soon enough, so why rush that process,” says Dunbar. “I think whether it is one year or two years he can improve his game enough to become attractive to some really solid programs.”
Off the ice Thomson isn’t overwhelmingly tall, he is mild mannered, and a man of few words. When he steps on the ice, however, he becomes a force to be reckoned with. He has all the on-ice traits a good hockey player needs: speed, strength, vision, and a shot that seems to travel at warp speed with precision accuracy.
Thomson is betting on himself that he can become a better hockey player and person. Every bet is risky, but Dunbar, Frew, and Thomson all know that if he can commit himself to improving, new doors will open for him that will lead him on his new journey.
The Monarchs open the 2014-15 season on Saturday, Sept. 13.