By Mike Fornabaio
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The thumping hit bothered Jay Rosehill. It was obvious from the moment the Springfield defenseman bounced off the boards in front of the scorer’s table, a bounce courtesy of Bridgeport Sound Tigers winger Chris Thompson.
Rosehill chased Thompson back across the ice and threw a hit into him in open ice. Referee Jeff Smith had been watching. He tossed Rosehill into the penalty box for interference. Without touching the puck, Thompson made a big play. Without recording a point, he was a key component of that game last Wednesday.
“We’ve got those guys in there to skate and score,” Thompson said, standing in the hallway outside the Sound Tigers’ dressing room this week. “I’ll chip in every now and then, but I’m looking to be a spark, energy, hitting guys, getting the puck in.”
The Sound Tigers signed Thompson to an AHL deal last summer. He has been up and down to the ECHL a few times, but he has been making a case to stick around. He has brought to the Sound Tigers some of the things captain Kevin Colley has brought over the past three seasons: the grit, the combativeness, the willingness to drop the gloves, the will to hit anything in the other colors. It’s a role that can mean a lot to a team, a big reason the New York papers are treating Colley’s impending return to the struggling Islanders as if Clark Gillies were coming out of retirement.
“You notice (Thompson). I know the other team notices him. Philly wasn’t too happy with him (Friday),” coach Dave Baseggio said. “He brings something we don’t have with the other guys,” Baseggio added. For most of his eight-year career, Thompson, 27, has been in that kind of role, always on the fringe of the AHL, productive in the ECHL, gritty in both. Wednesday night, he was set to play his 13th game for the Sound Tigers. He had never played more than 10 AHL games in a season before this year, a total of 23. Thompson signed an NHL contract with New Jersey when he was 19 and played his first three pro seasons in the Devils’ organization. After beginning his pro career in Albany, though, he didn’t play another AHL game for two full seasons after that. After that NHL deal, this was his first AHL contract. All his other call ups were on tryout deals. He played a few years in Augusta, a few years in Dayton (meeting his now-fiancÈe), then went from team to team, awaiting that good situation. “It gets frustrating, maybe, when you’re younger,” Thompson said. “You get to know the business, there’s a lot of things out of a player’s control. You’ve got to stick with it. You’ve got to learn to roll with the punches, I guess.”
Thompson said he wants to find a place to stay for more than one season. He’ll play as long as his body will let him, he said, and he hopes to coach after that.
“If things didn’t work out and I ended up playing the majority of the year in Trenton, that was something I was going to be happy with,” said Thompson, who was named captain of the Titans when Bridgeport sent him down in October. “It’s not so much frustrating anymore. When I get an opportunity, I’m going to make the best of it.”
He’s done that this time around. In his second game back, playing a few shifts with Sean Bergenheim and Robert Nilsson, he picked up his first two career AHL assists on Nilsson’s goals.
“He leaves everything on the ice, and he’s got some pretty good skills, too,” Baseggio said. “He’s not a guy that goes out and runs everything that moves. He can make a pass.”
Since then, he has picked up some shifts on the penalty kill. At even strength and on the power play, he has played a lot with Travis Brigley and Steve Regier, a trio of western Canadians who all can bang in the corners and cycle the puck. He picked up another assist on a Brigley goal Saturday.
“He brings some grit and some energy, a lot of energy to the club,” Brigley said. “He tries to be the guy in everyone’s faces, chirps on the bench. He does a lot of little things on the ice.”