January 16, 2014
Duluth News Tribune
Denfeld player is substance over style
By Louie St. George III
Nick Thompson said if school were closed for a day, he would go to work at his dad’s towing business. It’s emblematic of his business-like demeanor. It also helps to explain an affinity for cars. Aside from a 2002 Dodge Dakota, Thompson owns a 1962 Chevy Impala, thanks to a grandpa that specializes in restorations.
It’s a much flashier mode of transportation, though the Duluth Denfeld junior insists he abides by all speed-limit laws.
Asked how fast he’s gotten the Impala up to, he says: “I’ve never topped it out — it’s just something you don’t want to do with that kind of car.”
What about the Dakota?
“Speed limit,” he deadpans while wearing a smirk.
The pickup mirrors Thompson ’s playing style on the ice: dependable, sturdy and capable of getting the job done without a lot of flash or fanfare.
In his third varsity season, Thompson has helped the Hunters avoid a drastic decline after they graduated so much talent from last year’s 19-9 team that narrowly missed the program’s first state tournament since 1989. It’s been a grind, but the Hunters (8-8) have won three of four to reach .500 for the first time this season.
And Thompson has played a leading role, tallying 11 goals and 10 assists from the blue line while averaging about 35 minutes per game. Big numbers for a big defenseman, and Denfeld coach Kevin Smalley has no plans to tighten the reins.
“I think any coach’s dream is to have some offensive-minded defensemen,” Smalley said before practice Wednesday at the Heritage Center. “When you get somebody that can understand that part of the game, you try to give them a little bit more freedom.”
Thompson stands 6-foot-3 and a slight 180 pounds. He isn’t blindingly fast — though Smalley fully expects that part of Thompson ’s game to develop once he grows into his body — but his ability to anticipate plays on the ice before they happen, and react accordingly, more than makes up for any speed shortcomings.
“ Nick knows the game and understands the game at a pretty high level,” Smalley said.
That likely stems from growing up around a pair of hockey-playing siblings who carved out stellar prep careers at Denfeld. Brothers Zach, a four-year starter between the pipes, and Alex, a 52-point producer a year ago, graduated last spring. They’re no longer around to torment their tag-along, but Thompson gleaned as much puck knowledge as he could before they hung up their skates.
And despite possessing “the big genes in the family,” Thompson said they never took it easy on him growing up.
“They really pushed me, always playing street hockey and here at practice before coaches got out there,” said Thompson , who has nine goals and six assists in his past six games.
Denfeld has stabilized following a 2-5 start. A 3-2 overtime loss to Section 7A heavyweight Hermantown on Dec. 17 has the Hunters confident they can hang with anybody. And while last year’s squad relied overwhelmingly on the likes of Alex Thompson and Levi Talarico to generate offense, it’s all-hands-on-deck this time around.
Reid Lemker leads Denfeld with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists), and Tre Opack is right behind Thompson with 20 (11, 9). Jake DeCaro, Adam Shykes and Steve Maciver all have double-digit point tallies.
“We weren’t necessarily looking for anybody to fill those shoes,” Smalley said of the 124 points Talarico and Alex Thompson piled up in 2012-13. “We were just hoping that some kids would step up to the plate and, within their realm, be productive. Of course, Nick has been productive ever since he’s been here, so we weren’t really asking him to do anything out of the ordinary. He’s been doing this ever since he came here.”