When the Reign held open tryouts in September for anyone interested in playing for the Inland Empire’s first pro hockey team, it’s no stretch to say Mike Thomson went out on the biggest limb.
“I just decided it was time to move away from school,” Thomson said, “and I decided to come out here and play for this team.”
That’s easier said than done. Of the 69 tryout participants, only six were invited to training camp. Of those six, only two (Thomson and Itan Chavira) remain on the roster three days before the Reign’s regular-season opener in Bakersfield.
Thomson is here as a result of both skill and serendipity, but to the 24-year-old it really doesn’t matter.
“This is the only (tryout) I did,” Thomson said. “I had a couple other backup plans, but this is where I wanted to be, what I wanted from day one.”
Two forwards expected to start the season with the Reign, Denny Johnston and Jon Rheault, remain with the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester, N.H. on pro tryout contracts. Their absence, Reign coach Karl Taylor said, was “very unexpected.”
But it created an opportunity for both Thomson and Chavira, an Upland resident who had a goal and an assist, as well as a spectacular shootout goal, in the preseason. Thomson has been kept off the stat sheet and his fan base has been less vocal, but his unexpected contributions have been no less notable than Chavira’s.
“He seems to be smart on the ice,” Taylor said of Thomson. “It’s a stretch for him to be here but he’s shown some things; he skates well enough. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s shown enough to stick around above the other guys we released, in my opinion.”
Thomson had a solid Division III college career, scoring 26 goals and 58 points in 74 career games for the Cardinals. But he never played more than 30 games in a season and is relishing the opportunity to prove himself over a 74-game ECHL campaign – even though he “didn’t really expect to” still be here.
“It’s a day-to-day thing, you never know what’s going to go on,” Thomson said. “You just try to stay here as much as possible.”