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Rocky Thompson still hopeful of an NHL career

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Sam Laskaris, Sweetgrass Writer, Toronto







Page 9

He was named after famous boxer Rocky Marciano. And Rocky Thompson showed a great deal of promise as a pugilist in the ring himself.

As a teenager, Thompson won a gold medal in boxing at the North American Indigenous Games in Prince Albert in 1993. He also won Golden Gloves (provincial championships) tournaments in both Alberta and Saskatchewan.

These days, Thompson earn himself a living by playing professional hockey.

The 26-year-old Cree defenceman, who grew up in Whitecourt, is a member of the American Hockey League's Toronto Roadrunners. The Roadrunners are the top affiliate club for the National Hockey League's Edmonton Oilers.

Though he has spent the majority of his career in the minor leagues, Thompson has played a total of 25 career games in the NHL. He suited up for 15 matches with the Calgary Flames between 1997 and 1999 and an additional 10 contests for the Florida Panthers between 2000 and 2002.

Thompson, who has also had minor pro stops in Saint John, Louisville, Hershey and San Antonio, believes he can become a regular in the NHL.

"I hope so," he said. "I haven't given up hope of that happening. When it becomes apparent it's not going to happen, that's when I guess I'll hang up my skates."

Because of his tough-as-nails play and his frequent willingness to drop his gloves and engage in a hockey fight, Thompson has been a fan favorite wherever he has played.

That includes in Toronto with the Roadrunners, who are in the first season of AHL operations.

"They're treating me great here," Thompson said. "The Oiler organization is just first-class."

The Roadrunners are giving Thompson an opportunity to play on a regular basis. He estimates he's averaging about 15 minutes of action per game.

During a good portion of his pro career, Thompson would only play a handful of shifts each game. And he would often be sent out onto the ice simply for some fisticuffs. But these days, Thompson is also filling another role for the Roadrunners; he's a versatile player who has been moved up to play forward positions when the club has run into injury problems.

"It's nice to have that versatility and be able to play forward too," Thompson said.

Thompson had spent the 2002-2003 campaign with the San Antonio Rampage in Texas. The Rampage is the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers. He led all AHL defencemen with 275 penalty minutes last season. But he was a free agent and signed a two-year deal with the Oilers' organization this past July.

So far this year, Thompson had racked up a team-high 134 penalty minutes in his first 38 games with the Roadrunners. And the bruising 6-foot-2, 205-pound blueliner had chipped in with one goal and four assists.

Though he's focused on his hockey career, Thompson has never abandoned his passion for boxing. In fact, during recent summers he has trained at a Calgary boxing gym. But he hasn't been able to have an actual match.

"I just haven't been able to compete," he said, adding time restraints have prevented him from improving his 14-1 record as an amateur boxer.

Thompson said he would consider a return to the ring once his hockey days are over.

For now, Thompson is trying to focus on helping the Roadrunners. The club will need a strong finish in order to qualify for the AHL playoffs.

"We had a tough start with lots of losses in our first 15-20 games," Thompson said of the Roadrunners, who won just five of their first 20 contests. "But we've been playing a lot better lately."

As of early February, the Roadrunners were sporting a 17-23-8-2 record. The Roadrunners were in last place in the league's seven-team North Division. But they were also only eight points out of third place in their tightly packed division.

During the off-season, Thompson makes his home in Calgary. This coming summer he is planning to operate at least three Native youth hockey camps in Alberta.