Thompson shows energy in return to Utica’s lineup

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UTICA — Tyce Thompson missed nearly five months of hockey this season. 

The 22-year-old forward and New Jersey Devils prospect is happy to be back playing with the Utica Comets following a shoulder injury.

“It is awesome (to return). Obviously, you don’t want to be away from the game that long,” said Thompson, who was injured against the New York Islanders in November and needed surgery to fix a torn labrum, according to the Devils. “I definitely missed it, especially being with the guys. Being out there again after that long, I was really excited.” 

Thompson – who had a hat trick and added three assists in seven previous games with Utica – quickly got back into the flow with the Comets after joining the team for practice last Thursday. He was thrust into Utica’s starting lineup Friday against Syracuse in his first AHL game in nearly 150 days. 

He showed good energy in starting on a line with red-hot forward A.J. Greer (career-best 50 points) and Chase De Leo (47 points). He registered an assist in the third period to give Utica a four-goal lead and then helped ice a 5-3 win with an empty-netter late. The next night, he added another goal and assist, though the team dropped a 3-2 decision at Lehigh Valley.

The effort shows that Thompson put in work while he was returning from his injury, Comets coach Kevin Dineen said. 

“There’s usually a feeling out process,” said Dineen, whose 361 AHL wins are one back of Terry Reardon on the league’s career coaching victories list. “I think we both felt like it was best to just throw him in a game. He certainly had a good weekend. It is good to have him back.”

Thompson’s return is a boost for the Comets (39-16-6-1 overall), who are within striking distance of clinching one of the five North Division playoff spots with 10 regular-season games remaining. The team’s Magic Number to clinch the North title is nine points. Both milestones are expected conclusions for Utica, which is trying to gain more momentum heading into the postseason after sitting atop the division this season.

“I think we have a really close group,” said Thompson, who was part of the team’s first seven wins en route to the record 13-0 start to the season. “Anyone can play with anyone. We roll all the lines. I think everyone believes we have a good shot here to make a run in the playoffs. I would say everyone is coming to the rink believing in the group. The last 10 games are big for us.” 

Utica is set to play visiting Belleville (sixth place in the North) at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The game is set to feature a visit from legendary goalie Martin Brodeur. The team is giving out bobbleheads featuring the former Utica Devils goalie to every fan in attendance. 

The game is part of a home-and-home series between the teams with another meeting set for 7 p.m. Friday in Belleville. Utica plays at 4 p.m. Saturday at Laval. 

It is more opportunities for Thompson, who has played a total of 29 games between the AHL and NHL since turning pro in April 2021 after a stellar three seasons at NCAA Division I Providence. He made his NHL debut on April 6, 2021, against his brother, Tage, and the Buffalo Sabres.

“It hasn’t been easy. I came in at the end of last year and I got my first little taste of pro hockey. I had the summer and then got hurt this year. I haven’t had too many games,” Thompson said. “But, I get to play hockey, so I’m grateful for that. I come to work every day and try to bring a smile and a good attitude.” 

Roll call

Forward Frederik Gauthier, who appeared to suffer a lower-body injury on a collision during Friday’s game and didn’t play Saturday, skated following the team’s main practice Tuesday. He’s not expected to play Wednesday, Dineen said.

“It is nothing that is going to keep him out long-term,” Dineen said.

Forward Nolan Foote (upper-body) and defenseman Jeremy Groleau (lower-body) practiced with the team. Foote has missed the last 10 games while Groleau has been out eight consecutive contests.

Dineen said recently the target for both was to return this week.

“They had good skates (Tuesday). So, I’m optimistic depending on how they come out of practice that they’ll be available for us,” Dineen said.

There was an indication later Tuesday that Groleau could be set to return. The Comets announced Tim Theocharidis has been released from his tryout contract and is re-joining ECHL Adirondack. With Groleau, the team would have seven defensemen, which is a fairly standard number for teams.

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