Kenai visited by Tampa Bay Lightning skater

Local hockey fans and young up-and-comers were treated to a chance to meet a national level talent Tuesday at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility ice rink. Any advice or stories they heard from him were just icing on the cake.

Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC), a nonprofit organization that strives to “meet needs in our community through the resources of the churches,” teamed up with National Hockey League player Nate Thompson, a center for the Tampa Bay Lightning, to raise money to prevent homelessness.

“They raise money for the homeless, and every dollar they raise, they double it,” Thompson said. “It’s for a great cause, no doubt.”

Thompson, who was born and raised in Anchorage, made the most of his 2014 summer vacation to Alaska with his wife, Cristin, and father, Robert, by visiting the Kenai Peninsula for the fundraiser and meeting with kids on the ice for pictures and autographs. The family are also planning on a few fishing trips as well.

Before Thompson left for the day, a small group of hockey fans approached him and began asking questions. One asked, “Who’s the hardest player to skate against?”

After a second, Thompson answered, “Milan Lucic is tough, but (Sidney) Crosby definitely is the toughest.”

Many of the kids skating around were wearing typical NHL jerseys. Pittsburgh, San Jose, Detroit and the New York Rangers were all represented, but the most obvious jersey of choice was the blue and white No. 44 with which Thompson competes.

Cameron Knowlton and Billy Voder, both 14-year-old incoming freshmen at Soldotna High School, showed up for the event. Both are also aspiring high school talents.

“I’m a goalie, so I don’t think he can give much advice,” Knowlton said.

Both boys are Detroit Red Wings fans, but their allegiances were split Tuesday, as Knowlton donned a Tampa Bay jersey for Thompson to sign, while Voder stuck with his Detroit garb. Voder is a regular at the ice rink, completing daily practice sessions for his Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association Bantam B Ice Hawks.

“I do like five sessions a day, and my coach Vince (Redford) told me about it,” Voder said.

Knowlton, who plays for the Under-16 Midget team, said his family is friends with Dr. Robert Thompson, Nate’s father.

“(Thompson) just seems like a regular guy,” Knowlton said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Dr. Thompson said Love INC has a focus to make a difference in people’s lives and to share the gospel, but without words, never putting pressure on anybody.

“In February or March of this year we had to stop taking requests for the first time, because we didn’t have any money to do what we needed to do,” the elder Thompson said. “The first 10 days of the month, we took requests and spent the rest of the month trying to help them, and so the need is much greater than what people realize.”

Thompson said Love INC is very responsible about how help is given out, keeping track of who is receiving assistance, how they are being helped, and how many times they are receiving aid, so that recipients are not making the rounds to gobble up precious funds.

“It helps people with electric and gas bills, it prevents homelessness, most poverty issues,” he said. “It’s a hand up, not a handout.”

The 29-year-old Thompson is a 2003 graduate of Dimond, and was a part of the 2001 Lynx squad that won the state championship. Even before he ended his high school career, Thompson was playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, and was drafted in the sixth round (183rd overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins.

Thompson made his NHL debut in October 2006 with Boston. He also played for the New York Islanders for a little more than a season before being claimed on waivers by Tampa Bay in January of 2010.

During the 2012-13 lockout-shortened NHL season, Thompson competed for part the Alaska Aces season in the Eastern Conference Hockey League, helping the team to a 49-15-4 regular season record before returning to the national scene.

Thompson’s Lightning failed to make it out of the Stanley Cup Eastern Conference quarterfinals this year, suffering a 4-0 sweep to the Montreal Canadiens, but Thompson said he is still able to enjoy getting back to Alaska.

“My dad lives in Soldotna and is a big part of the charity, and obviously hockey and Kenai go together. It’s pretty big here, so anytime you can use myself as an example, as a guy from Alaska, it’s good.

“It’s fun to come out here and talk to people and take pictures.”

Thompson’s family has lived in Alaska for 31 years, and his father has been a Kenai Peninsula inhabitant for the last 11 years.

“We spend a lot of time here and we all like to come down and fish,” Thompson said.

As a product of Alaska, Thompson also said he enjoys being the role model for any younger hockey players who may be looking to play in the big leagues someday.

“When I was a kid, when there was a hometown guy that did well in the NHL or college, it was someone you could look up to,” Thompson said. “I think the biggest thing I’ve told them is to work hard and have fun. It’s a pretty simple ingredient and it works.”

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