One of our feature stories of the April issue is a profile of Anaheim Ducks center Nate Thompson, who just happened to score his first point of an injury-shortened season last night as the Ducks beat Calgary to close in on a Pacific Division title (the playoffs begin next week). The April issue is now on sale – look for it at outlets such as Barnes and Noble, Ralph’s and Vons around Orange County or the Southland, or give us a call at 800-332-1736 to order a copy. Here’s a preview:
By Chris Cocoles
It really is the Last Frontier,” Nate says. “To be able to drive a half hour out of Anchorage, you can be in the middle of nowhere. Or you can drive to a place in Anchorage, go on a hike and next thing you know, you’re in the wilderness. There’s no place like that.”
Fly fishing became part of the father-son bonding process for Nate and Robert. They took local classes in how to tie flies and it soon became the Thompsons’ favorite outdoor pastime. Catching a hard-fighting salmon on a fly rod was a challenge Nate couldn’t get enough of.
When he got older, the endless sunlight of Alaskan summers allowed Thompson and his friends to do a “suicide run” to a nearby fishing spot, which is a lot less sinister than it sounds.
“You leave your house at, say, 8 or 8:30 (p.m.), then drive about an hour and 45 minutes to the river,” he says. “You fish and catch your limit and finish – depending on how fast – and whether it’s midnight, 1 or 2 in the morning, you then drive back home. The benefit of that is still mostly light outside. You don’t have to worry about it getting dark on you.”
“That’s one of the perks of being in Alaska in the summertime.”
IF SUMMER WAS A time for using a net to secure a salmon or trout, winter meant nets of a different kind. Thompson would lace up his skates and never be far away from a frozen pond.
“I think that’s where I improved the most as a player, playing hockey outside,” he says. “We would have practice (indoors) at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, and there was an outdoor rink right next door. We’d take all our gear off and put on our hats and gloves and walk to the outdoor rink.”
Thompson and the other kids in the neighborhood spent the available daylight hours to hit the Mother Nature-created playing surfaces.
“All day, every day, whether it was playing for whatever club team I was with, or me just skating outside with my buddies,” Thompson says. “And then when it started to get warm outside, the hockey gear went away … Every weekend we’d go fishing.”
But since this is Alaska, winters are looonnnggg, so all that time on the ice would pay off for Thompson, who joined future National Hockey League players Matt Carle, a former San Jose Shark, and Tim Wallace and played together for a local youth team, the Alaska Stars.
At his side for all the games was his family. Sarah Palin might be the state’s “celebrity” hockey mom, but Cathy is one of many unsung matriarchs shuttling their sons and daughters to 6 a.m. practices and tournaments in far-flung cities and towns all over North America.
“Talking about the games, the practices, the big fish that we caught – those are the things that you just never forget,” Thompson says of his parents. “They were a team and my mom was definitely a hockey mom and my dad too was a (hockey dad). We’d have games on Saturdays and they’d be in the stands freezing their butts off bundled up in a parka jacket with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. My poor sister had to be dragged to the games. I still hear about that from her. But they were great and very supportive.”