The 34-year-old Thompson has played in six pro leagues since 1996 and will soon earn a spot on his 11th team. He's signed with the ECHL's Augusta Lynx, which is affiliated with the AHL's Admirals and the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, but hopes to see some game time in Norfolk this season.
“In all honesty, I feel I'm just beginning to peak,” said Thompson, who played for the CHL's Austin Ice Bats last winter but sat out the 2006-07 season while rehabilitating from wrist surgery and battling over insurance benefits related to the procedure. “These kids have some strong legs, but once I'm in shape, I won't have a problem keeping up with them.”
That's probably because, at the height of his physical powers, a younger Thompson possessed speed Admirals coach Darren Rumble described as “unreal”. The two played parts of three AHL seasons with the Worcester Ice Cats almost a decade back and Rumble, a defenseman, had to contend with Thompson, a wing, each day at practice.
“He's not as fast as he was, but he's also not 23 any more,” Rumble said. “He's got a ton to offer, though, on and off the ice. If he doesn't make our team, he should expect and be counted on to be a point-a-game guy in Augusta.”
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A hanging video scoreboard and accompanying models on the walls at the ends of the ice are the sort of arena accessories NHL fans take for granted. Not so in Norfolk, where city officials, Admirals employees and fans are giddy over the recent installation of the $2.1 million video scoreboard in 37-year-old Scope.
“There will be a perceptible buzz when fans walk into the arena and see there’s a whole new set of toys to play with,” Chris Mascatello told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Mascatello is an executive with ANC Sports, the company that spearheaded the scoreboard’s design, construction and implementation.
Scope's previous scoreboard was hung in 1994 and cost $500,000, but it was hardly state-of-the-art even then. The past several seasons, it wasn't uncommon for the board to begin blinking and flashing random numbers in the middle of games.
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Norfolk general manager Mike Butters told The Pilot just before camp began that free-agent forward Sean D. O'Connor, a 25-year-old former third-round draft pick by Florida in 2000, had a shot at making the Admirals. O'Connor was having a hard time standing out with Admirals fans. That's because he was one of two players in camp with his name. The other Sean O'Connor, whose middle initial is E, is a pro rookie who played for Erie, Plymouth and London in the Ontario Hockey League. Both were among the most recent cuts by the team.
The Admirals equipment staff unintentionally differentiated between the two on the first day of camp when one of the players' jerseys had a name plate reading ``O'Conner'', but it was quickly altered.
In another coincidence, the Admirals also have two players from Salmon Arm, British Columbia, a town of about 15,000 in the province's interior that thrives on outdoor recreation in its forests and lakes. Scott Jackson
and Mitch Fadden are only a year apart in age and played together with the 2004-05 Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL.
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John Marks, a former NHL player and veteran minor-league coach, is in his first season guiding the Lighting's ECHL affiliate in Augusta, Ga. Marks told the Augusta Chronicle he expects to have roughly 27 players report for training camp in early October.
“On paper it's a decent hockey team, but you never really know about anybody until you see them out there on the ice,” Marks said.
The Lynx have preseason scrimmages set for Oct. 10 against the Mississippi Sea Wolves and Oct. 11 against Gwinnett Gladiators. Marks is hoping to have Aaron Slattengren, the high-scoring Lynx forward who tallied 44 points in 33 games last season. Other players are likely to come from Norfolk, although Marks said he only has so much control over what's shipped his way.
“You never know what you're going to get from them” Marks said of the Admirals. “But I did tell Mike Butters I'd like a little say in this. I don't want to end up losing a guy to them I've recruited all summer and get someone else's mistake in return.”