It appears the junior hockey world is learning something folks here in North Dakota and Minnesota have known for a while now.
This Keaton Thompson kid might be good at this hockey thing. The 16 year-old defenseman was part of the U.S. U-17 Team, which won its third straight Four Nations title over the weekend scoring two goals (three if you include an exhibition game) during the tournament.
Scoring goals in an international tournament is just adding to what’s been a good year for the Devils Lake, N.D. native.
“It’s really good,” said Thompson a few weeks before the tournament. “Everything is going good. Hockey is doing good. Every thing is going really good. Its kind of rainy out here so I’d say that’s the only bad thing.”
And for anyone wondering, yes, it did rain Monday in Ann Arbor, Mich., where Thompson lives and trains with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
Rain might not sound like a bad alternative considering its supposed to snow early Tuesday morning in Thompson’s hometown.
Weather aside, life is going pretty well for Thompson. The first-place finish at the Four Nations is proof. So was Thompson’s performance in his last USHL game.
He scored two goals – including his first in the USHL – in a 5-4 win over the Youngstown Phantoms a few weeks ago.
“I felt good,” Thompson said. “It was probably the best game I have played yet. I was kind of surprised when I scored the first goal. It was a lucky goal I guess. The second goal I was kind of freaking out too.”
Funny considering it is Thompson’s offensive prowess, which has caused a few problems for anyone playing against him.
North Dakota’s prep hockey season starts in about a week and it will be the first time in two seasons teams won’t have to worry about Thompson. He burst onto the scene as an eighth grader scoring 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) in 24 games.
Then as a freshman, he led the state’s defensemen in scoring with 38 points (9 goals, 29 assists) in 24 games before grabbing the Fargo Force’s attention and finishing the year in the USHL with Thompson playing 15 games.
Of course all of this was enough for the NTDP to take notice and extend Thompson a bid to the program, which he accepted.
Thompson became only the second North Dakotan to play for the NTDP in the program’s history.
Aside from his stint in Fargo, it’s really Thompson’s first time away from home and he admitted it was certainly an adjustment. Devils Lake is a town of 7,141 people while Ann Arbor is nearly 114,000 people.
“At first it was kind of hard,” Thompson said. “It was a new experience getting with all the guys and just experiencing the new school. I’ve had the chance to meet some new kids and the school here is a lot bigger. It is 1,600 kids and Devils Lake (High School) was 500.”
Thompson said he hasn’t really had the chance to experience anything like Gumby’s Pizza in Ann Arbor in large part to his schedule.
While most are out eating Pokey Sticks, Thompson is at school from 7:40 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. and then has power skating at 2:15 p.m. At 3 p.m., he has workouts and video sessions, which don’t get finished until 7 p.m.
“Then we go home and do homework,” Thompson said. “On weekends we play games.”
Getting to know his teammates, Thompson said, has helped with the transition.
Thompson said the player he’s become really good friends with is forward J.T. Compher, a Michigan commit, who is arguably one of the better American-born forwards in his age group.
Compher has six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in seven games, which has gained respect from many in the league. Except his teammates.
“We rag on him about going to Michigan,” Thompson said. “We tell him since he’s going to be here for the next five years of his life, we hope he has fun.”
Thompson has one more year in Ann Arbor and from there he could have a few options. He could go straight to North Dakota or as he’s previously said, if North Dakota’s coaching staff wants him to get a year of development, Thompson would play one more year of juniors with the Force.
Either way, the U-17 schedule does not provide Thompson a chance to play against the Force this season but he will get the opportunity next season with the U-18 team which plays the Force and then usually goes to Grand Forks to play the Sioux in a exhibition game.
“When the time comes, I want to see some people back home,” Thompson said. “And show them how we are doing.”