Mike Thomas turned a couple of heads at Edmonton's Rookie Camp with some tough play, an impressive workout in the fitness tests and a willingness to do the dirty work in the exhibitions. Thomas is an over-ager with an option to return to the Saint John Sea Dogs should he not catch on with a professional team, but there's a sentiment that he just might be an option for the Stockton Thunder, and if a few things break right for him, the Oklahoma City Barons. Thomas was born and raised in New Maryland, New Brunswick, a Fredericton bedroom community of 4,000 and located about an hour away of Saint John. He was taken in the fourth round (#56) in the 2006 QMJHL Entry Draft and spent his entire Q career in Saint John.
This is not a player known for his offense, his career high in points is 22, but he's become recognized by NHL teams in other ways. In 2009, he attended Philadelphia Flyers Rookie Camp and snagged an invite to Edmonton's Rookie Camp this season. It's no secret why as Steve Tambellini is bound and determined to add toughness to the entire organization and Thomas is about as tough as they come. That toughness is backed by an outstanding work ethic on the ice and in the gym as several camp attendees have mentioned Thomas' prowess in the camp-opening conditioning tests. In February of 2010, Thomas was named the Saint John Academic Player of the Month.
Thomas was named Captain of the Sea Dogs last fall, and watched over a team that stormed through the QMJHL regular season and went to the championship game.
To find out more about Thomas and his background, I caught up with Jamie Tozer, the man behind Station Nation, not only one of the best blogs in the CHL, but one of the best-run blogs in all of hockey. If you are a fan of the QMJHL or the CHL, Station Nation is a must-read. Jamie does incredible work with game updates, news and profiles on the Sea Dogs and was kind enough to take some time out to answer our questions about Mike Thomas.
Copper & Blue: Saint John was the best team in the QMJHL last year during the regular season and lost in the finals to Moncton. It was the best squad in the short history of the team and there were a number of NHL draftees on that team, yet Thomas was the Captain. How did that come about?
Jamie Tozer: Although Thomas played as a 19-year old last season, it was his fourth season with the Sea Dogs, making him one of the longest serving players on the team. He’s an experienced guy that has been through the good times and the bad.
Another reason was probably because he always shows lots of leadership off the ice. He’s very prominent in the community, making him a good example for a young team.
C&B: In perusing Youtube, I've noticed most of his highlights are of the pugilistic variety. He's is listed at 6' 185, yet he's fought 6'2" 225 lb Marshall Worden, 6'3" 201 Martin Baca, 6'4" 215 lb Kyell Henegan, and 6'2" 224 lb Kyle McNeil. Is his heart exceedingly large or is he just that good with his fists?
Tozer: That’s a good question, and I think a lot of that has to do with the changing demographics in the QMJHL. Following the Jonathan Roy incident a few years ago, the league made it very difficult for "goons" to exist on team’s rosters. There are a few players remaining who are known simply for their fists – but none of them play for Saint John.
Although I wouldn’t classify Thomas as a pure fighter, he is really the one who fills that role for the Dogs. He faces some tough characters every now and then but handles himself well.
C&B: His stats history shows very little offense, so I assume he's a mucker, grinder and fighter?
Tozer: For sure – and he plays his role well. I’d say he is more of a grinder than anything and it has definitely showed at times. One of the best examples was probably in the league final last year when Thomas’ line was probably Saint John’s best in the first two games.
C&B: It's tough to get a handle on his skating ability from the online streams of the rookie games. You've seen enough players leave the Q and head to the AHL - does Thomas have the skating ability to make it?
Tozer: When you watch Thomas play, he’s skating is something that you probably won’t notice too much at quick glance. His skating gets the job done most of the time at the junior level, but it would need to improve if wants to continue his hockey career into the professional ranks.
C&B: The OIlers lack penalty killers throughout the organization. A guy with that knack could quickly carve out a place for himself in Stockton, Oklahoma City or even Edmonton. Does Thomas excel on the penalty kill?
Tozer: Despite winning 22-straight games in the first half of the 2009-10 season, Saint John’s penalty killing was brutal. It’s still a bit of a mystery, but it got a lot better in the second half. Thomas’ role at even strength is usually some kind of shut down role, so he does well when called upon for the PK.
C&B: Did you speak to him when he was in Saint John? What did he expect of himself and his career?
Tozer: I didn’t personally speak with him. He told the local newspaper during the summer that he was excited for the opportunity. He was invited to Philadelphia Flyers rookie camp last year, and with him being the captain of one of the best team in the CHL last year, an invite probably wasn’t all that surprising.
C&B: Give us your best Mike Thomas story.
Tozer: Tough one.
He has had some memorable fights. This was one of the more memorable ones when he gave a beat down to Martin Baca.
Another moment that always sticks in my head is when the French speaking public address announcer (Saint John has both a French and English PA announcer) at Harbour Station gave Thomas the nickname "The Hammer." A QMJHL official was in the house that night and put an end to the fun, believing some people may be offended by Thomas’ and several Sea Dogs’ nicknames.
C&B: What else do we need to know about Thomas?
Tozer: Well, he got suspended a ton last season. I’m not sure what the exact total was, but it must have been around 15 to 20 games.
Most of the suspensions were borderline at best and the majority of them would not have caused any missed games at the pro level. Basically, he has become too rough and tough for the Q. That has created the big question in Saint John: if he is sent back to junior for an overage season, do the Sea Dogs really want to use one of their three 20-year old spots on a player who may miss 20 games due to suspensions?
One other thing is Thomas’ superb physical fitness, something the Sea Dogs coaching staff often remarks about. At Sea Dogs Training Camp last month, Thomas won the bench press contest (23 reps x 185 lbs) and was a runner up in the chin-ups competition with 19.
C&B: Jamie, thanks for taking the time out to do this. Special thanks to Marc Henwood of Station Nation for the photo of Mike Thomas in action.