by Alistair McInnis, Prince George Free-Press
What Kirk Thompson accomplished in three days earlier this month was no easy feat for any young netminder.
In a trio of weekend BC Hockey League home games, the Surrey native – who tends goal for the Prince George Spruce Kings – skated between the pipes at the Coliseum for each of the 180 minutes his team played, all in a three-day span. But the end result was positive.
“It’s definitely a challenge. It’s not easy,” goalie said of playing three games in three nights. “But it makes it worth it when you can come out with all six points.”
After posting a 3-1 triumph over the Cowichan Valley Capitals Dec. 7, Thompson recorded two more wins in a doubleheader against the Coquitlam Express over the next two days.
“It was definitely a weekend to remember for me,” said Thompson, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds.
The final victory also fell on the 20-year-old former Valley West Hawk netminder’s 100th career BCHL game.
Thompsons’ performance over that three-game stretch came as no surprise to his coach, Dave Dupas, who has seen the veteran goaltender lead the Kings to a second-place posting in the BCHL’s Mainland Division; heading into the Christmas break, Prince George was just four points back of first-place Chilliwack, and three ahead of the Surrey Eagles.
“I thought that without him playing as well as he did, it would’ve been obviously much tougher to win those games,” Dupas said. “But he made some big saves down the stretch and turned potential losses that we were getting earlier in November into wins, so it’s exactly what we need from him.”
Thompson is currently second in the league in minutes-played among goaltenders, having appeared in 30 of the Spruce Kings’ 33 games.
And while all the minutes may be tiring, Thompson knows better than to complain. Becoming the clear-cut starter was his goal when he joined the Spruce Kings in 2010. Now that the top job is his, he’s hoping it’ll take him to the next level. He’s aiming at landing a NCAA Div. 1 scholarship before the season ends.
Thompson doesn’t underestimate the challenges he’s faced to get here. He’s had about half a dozen goaltending partners with the Spruce Kings.
“Especially in the past, I’ve just been battling, battling to get ice time. The first five of my goalie partners, at least, it’s just an ongoing battle,” he said.
“Then this year I kind of established myself as the number-one goalie, so it’s been a lot nicer and I think it’s better for me when I just have to focus on winning games rather than trying to beat out the other goalie on the team.”
While it’s rare to see a goalie play in fewer games his second season, Thompson did, in fact, play less as a sophomore than as a rookie. In the 2010-11 season, a non-playoff campaign in which the Spruce Kings struggled with consistency in goal, Thompson played in 39 games. Last season Thompson saw action in 33 contests, but played backup to Ty Swabb down the stretch.
In the offseason, the Spruce Kings dealt Swabb to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Canmore Eagles. The move came after the Spruce Kings signed 1996-born rookie Liam McLeod, so the starting position appeared to be Thompson’s for the taking.
He’s recorded 16 wins, 10 losses and one tie (16-10-1) and sports a 2.75 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and two shutouts.
Thompson earned his second shutout in front of his old hometown fans on Dec. 16, when he stopped 41 shots to lead Prince George to a 2-0 win over the Surrey Eagles at South Surrey Arena.
He also defeated the Eagles at South Surrey Arena on Oct. 5, stopping 27 of 28 shots in a 4-1 win. He’s had less luck against his hometown team in Prince George, losing a pair of games to the Birds in November.
On Jan. 31, he’ll get a chance to redeem himself when Surrey heads north for a game, and will return to the Semiahmoo Peninsula with his club when the Spruce Kings pay a visit on Feb. 8.
– with files from Nick Greenizan