Alaska teammates Thompson and Wallace hardly a mystery to one another
/ Tampa Bay Lightning
Tim Wallace, one of the Lightning's most recent acquisitions, is still getting to know many of his new teammates since being acquired on Feb. 23, but he already has a special bond with Bolts center Nate Thompson which dates back to their childhood days.
Both Wallace and Thompson come to the Lightning from Anchorage, Alaska, where they were longtime teammates on a youth-hockey team called the Alaska All-Stars.
"We played together for three years when we were growing up," said Wallace. "I think it was when we were 11, 12 and 13 years old. It's kind of funny that we're on the same team again in the NHL."
While it's certainly a coincidence that the pair – the only current roster tandem of Alaskan teammates in the NHL—are donning the same sweater once again 15 years after they last laced up the skates for the same squad over 4,700 miles away from home, it is by no means a fluke.
The duo endured similar journeys through the minor leagues to get to the NHL.
Thompson slugged it out through Boston's minor-league system for parts of three seasons before cracking the Bruins' NHL lineup during the 2006-07 season, while Wallace spent most of the last five years grinding his way through Pittsburgh's system before being given his first extended NHL stint by the New York Islanders earlier this winter.
"Tim and I play the same style of hockey," said Thompson. "He's a solid up and down player who hustles and hits like a truck. I think we bring a lot of the same things to the table"
While the new NHL teammates have created an Alaskan hockey hotbed of sorts in the Sunshine State, they're also a part of a greater trend which has seen a growing number of players from the last frontiermake it to the NHL over the last decade.
No Alaska natives had ever played in the NHL prior to Scott Gomez' NHL debut with the New Jersey Devils on October 2, 1999. As of the beginning of March, 11 different Alaskans had played in the NHL, including seven this season alone.
"Hockey is the number one sport back home," said Thompson. "Most of the people I know play hockey most of the year. It's good to see some of these guys getting to the NHL."
"Our team was pretty good back then," added Wallace. "In addition to Nate and myself, Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Carle were also on our Alaska All-Star team."
With Thompson and Wallace both holding down roster spots with the Lightning, history could be made if a third Alaskan could join the team. While there have been a handful of occasions where two Alaskans have been on the same team, there have never been three to play on the same team at the same time.
"We always get a lot of support from the people back home," said Thompson. "They love hockey and are always rooting for us to do well. It would really be something if three of us ended up on the same team."