Tag:Nate Thompson
Posted on: October 11, 2011 3:40 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2011 10:36 am
 

The Lightning: The East's (again) quiet contender

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- Let me take you back to last season. The Tampa Bay Lightning were just one game, no, one goal from making a trip back to the Stanley Cup Finals. The pushed the champion Bruins to the brink before a late Nathan Horton goal in Game 7 sent the B's on.

That's how the Lightning's breakout season ended. People had perhaps anticipated an improved Lightning squad, but one going that far? It was a quick ascension under first-year coach Guy Boucher. Yet, outside of the drama of Steven Stamkos' contract extension, there was very little discussion about the team from Tampa.

But why not? After all, the Bolts finished only four points behind the Capitals not only in the Southeast Division last season, but in the Eastern Conference. They then swept those same Capitals in the conference semifinals.

There are the headliners, of course. Outside of the twins in Vancouver, it is hard to find a better pairing of players than Martin St. Louis and Stamkos. Throw in Vinny Lecavalier and Ryan Malone? There is some special talent.

It's enough for Boucher to throw the slightest of bulletin-board quotes Washington's way before Monday's matchup.

“Last year we showed that we were the new kids on the block for them and they are used to being first," Boucher said. "We were kind of in their way as a thorn in their side and this year we are planning on being a thorn in both sides, hopefully."

Then they showed in the crazy, back-and-forth 6-5 shootout loss in Washington that they can be even pricklier. It was as captivating a game as you will see in the regular season while also being rather hideous. It's funny how sometimes an ugly game can be so pretty. It was "so bad, it's good" theater.

In that game, the Lightning managed to score five goals without any coming from the aforementioned four players. Stamkos didn't even have a shot on goal through the first two periods. Asked if he is getting enough enough production from his top line, Boucher's answer was perfect.

"No. I never get enough of anybody," he said with a smirk.

Instead the scoring work was done by Brett Clark, Teddy Purcell, Dominic Moore, Bruno Gervais and Nate Thompson. Now the game was hardly any model for defensive responsibility and goaltending teaching seminars, but you had to be encouraged to see so much production beyond the top line.

"It's a process. It's always a work in progress. Obviously we're doing a lot of good things, but we have a lot of things to clean up and that's part of the regular season," Thompson said. "You're going to have games where it's not going to be perfect. Still have a lot of work to do and a lot of season left. We did some good things, we did some bad things [on Monday]. We have to learn from it and move on."

It hasn't been the best of starts to the season. At times they looked sluggish and out of sync, but keep in mind the Bolts just began the season on a three-game road trip that included visits to the defending Stanley Cup winner and then the division champs here.

"I don’t think it’s concerning me, but we got to have our finger on it," St. Louis said after the game. "We took a huge stride in our work ethic compared to last game. We took way too many penalties, power play’s got to be better. That sums it up."

So again, why are people sleeping on the Lightning? Maybe it's because they were very quiet in the offseason aside from the Stamkos situation? The only new addition from outside the organization is Ryan Shannon, Gervais and backup goaltender Mathieu Garon. Hardly scene stealers.

There are two answers that seem the most obvious: They play in Tampa Bay. It's nothing the fans in Tampa don't already know, but it just isn't treated with the same attention as the traditional markets. That's the easy one.

But the real reason could be the concerns about the defense, including the goaltending situation. Last season the Bolts were 21st in the league in defense. If the game in Washington is any indication, things aren't looking much better yet. Add on that, the Lightning just learned they will be without Mathias Ohlund for the next four-to-six weeks.

Speaking specifically to the five goals surrendered to the Capitals, Boucher expressed some trepidation over the defense right now.

"Turnovers hurt us, but we can certainly be a lot better at [defense]," Boucher said. "But we are concerned. Ohlund is supposed to play against the top lines and he's out for a long time. So now we're asking some guys to play in slots their not supposed to. On any team it needs to be an adjustment. Guys are going to have to take the load for long times so I guess it's hurting us. But hey, we're battling through. We're still doing some good stuff, but we got to get better."

And when they do, the Lightning will somehow be right back in the position as the under-the-radar Cup threat. With the lack of attention, you get the feeling this is a "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me" situation.

There's no reason to think the Bolts aren't one of the best in the East. The perception is that teams like the Sabres and Rangers got better through free agency and the Penguins will be better with the eventual return of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But Tampa Bay, by sticking together and being in Year 2 under Boucher, will have another crack at reaching the Stanley Cup Finals this spring.

Photo: Getty Images (Side note: Love the guy watching Boucher diagram the play from the stands!)

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 7, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 5:03 pm
 

Hockey world mourns KHL team plane crash



(Pavol Demitra/Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

For the fourth time this summer, tragedy has struck the hockey world. This time it comes in the form of a plane crash in Russia carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the KHL, a team that includes many former NHL faces.

Among those who were on the roster are former NHL players Pavol Demitra, Ruslan Salei Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek and Karel Rachunek. The coaching staff was led by former Bruins, Whalers, Flyers and Red Wings defenseman Brad McCrimmon and also contained former NHL players Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev.

Plus, there were numerous others who were prospects for NHL teams. Among those was Devils prospect Alexander Vasyunov, who played in 18 games for the Devils last season.

"Words cannot express what has transpired," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. "I knew a lot of players that were on that team. Nothing could prepare the hockey community for the devastating news ... [This] has left all of us beyond words.

More on KHL crash

"[Vasyunov] wanted to go over and play a lot and come back here. He was so proud to be a Devil. I can't say enough about him."

Riley Armstrong, brother of Colby Armstrong, is part of the team but was not on the plane. He tweeted after the ordeal that he was OK.

"I'm safe, but thanks for the kind words but pray and think of the players and their families on that flight."

As you can imagine, in a league that now contains many Russian players and has its ties grow every year with Russia's top league, the responses have been numerous and distraught. Alex Ovechkin simply said "I'm in shock!!!!!R.I.P ...."

Panthers defenseman and former Lokomotiv player Dmitry Kulikov was left stunned. "It's just an empty feeling. Words can't express how I feel."

Then there was Lightning defenseman Nate Thompson. "A tragic loss for the hockey world. Plane crash with an entire KHL team on board. Thoughts and prayers go out to there families and friends."

Perhaps Demitra is perhaps the best known former NHL player among the bunch. He spent most of his NHL career with the Blues, where he had his best seasons as a player. His best year was 2002-03 when he scored 36 goals and had 57 assists. He was named to three All-Star teams; 1999, 2000 and 2002. He most recently played for the Canucks in 2009-10 before moving on to the KHL.

Moreover, he developed some tremendous friendships in the NHL. The bond he created with Keith Tkachuk in St. Louis was tremendous and Tkachuk was predictably hurt.

"I am beyond devastated by the tragic news involving my good friends Brad and Pavol and the rest of their teammates in Russia. Brad was my teammate in Phoenix and later coached me in Atlanta and was truly a wonderful man who will be greatly missed. Pav was like a brother to me and I cannot believe that he is no longer with us. This is a terrible day for the hockey fraternity. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time.”

Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star- Tribune penned this story back in 2007 (at the bottom of the entry) about the strong bond Demitra developed with Marion Gaborik when the two were playing together for the Wild.

Ruslan Salei and Karlis Skrastins also had lengthy stints in the NHL, even being traded for one another at one point. In the 2007-08 season, the Avalanche sent Skrastins to the Panthers in exchange for Salei. In his one full season in Florida, Skrastins had his most productive offensive year, scoring four goals and 14 assists. The tough-nosed defenseman then played his final two NHL seasons with the Stars. Terry Frei of the Denver Post chronicaled Skrastins' trip to the NHL from Latvia.

"The Dallas Stars are saddened by the loss of former defenseman Karlis Skrastins in today's tragic plane crash in Russia," the team released in a statement.

Salei spent nearly a decade playing for the Ducks in Anaheim before he was signed by the Panthers. Like Skrastins, he had his best offensive season playing with Florida, scoring six goals with 26 assists in 2006-07 before being traded the next season to Colorado.

He was playing with the Red Wings just last season, playing 75 games with Detroit.

Vasicek played parts of seven seasons in the NHL, six of those with the Carolina Hurricanes. Team captain Eric Staal had this to say about Vasicek: "Joe was an awesome guy, always in good spirits, always smiling. It's just a tragedy."

Chad LaRose echoed those sentiments. "It's a shocker, a tragedy. Joe was a great guy. A life ended too early."

Vasicek's final season in North America was with the Islanders where he played alongside Radek Martinek.

"He was one of my best buddies. He was in my wedding. I can't believe this," Martinek said.

Among the confirmed dead is former Red Wings and Flyers defenseman McCrimmon, Lokomotiv's coach. The news was just as somber in Detroit with Wings coach Mike Babcock.

McCrimmon had been an assistant with the Red Wings the past three seasons, having spent time wit the Thrashers, Flames and Islanders as an assistant as well. He left Detroit to lead the KHL team in hopes of becoming a head coach in the NHL some day.

As a defenseman, he put up some absolutely unbelievable numbers in his career. In only two of his 18 seasons did he ever record a negative plus-minus mark and he posted a career-high plus-83 in 1985-86 with the Flyers. He ended his career with a plus-444, the 10th best mark in NHL history. Each of the nine players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.

This will go down as one of the biggest, if not the biggest sports tragedies we've ever seen. About the only things I can think that compare are the plane crashes that affected the Marshall football team and Oklahoma State basketball teams. Hopefully, and we hope with every bone in our body, this is the end of what will be known as the Summer of Sorrow in hockey. This has truly been an offseason from hell and hopefully one that we never see again.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: June 17, 2011 3:25 pm
Edited on: June 17, 2011 6:53 pm
 

Goalie Smith hits homer as Bolts take some BP

The Tampa Bay Lightning were honored by the Tampa Bay Rays before their game on Thursday and some of them took batting practice before the game.

Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson and Mike Smith all took some cuts in the cage and threw out the first pitch(es) before the Rays played the Red Sox. I'm trying to figure out the most amazing thing about this part of the story: Smith, who had never hit a baseball before, belted a home run into the bleachers in left.

I understand he's from Canada and all, but never hitting a baseball? That's tough in and of itself to swallow. But hitting one into the stands your first time swinging a baseball bat? Incredible.

"Dream come true," Smith said. "It felt like butter coming off the bat. I've always wanted to try that. Close my eyes and swung, and it went out. I'm pretty proud."

Rays manager Joe Maddon was pretty impressed by it. "That was well struck," he said.

Purcell didn't have as much luck when stepping to the plate. "I don't really know what I'm doing," Purcell said. "So I'm just swinging for the fences." Good luck with that swing, Teddy!

As for Stamkos, the restricted free agent everybody wants to know about, well his day was just about baseball. A shortstop growing up, Stamkos didn't look like a fish out of water, sending a couple of balls deep to the outfield. He said that he now appreciates how tough baseball is.

Of course, Smith is probably wondering what the big deal is. He did get one other taste of big-league ball. After rounding the bases for his home run trot, he was greeted with a shaving cream pie to the face.

Ah yes, the joys of the offseason.

-- Brian Stubits

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com