by Nick Nollenberger | AHL On The Beat

Jack Thompson didn’t give much thought to the NHL trade deadline this year.

And why would he? After all, the defenseman was in the midst of a stellar sophomore season with the Syracuse Crunch, AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning, already setting career highs in points and assists in 25 fewer games than he did as a rookie.

On Jan. 6, he was called up to the Lightning and made his NHL debut at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins. In February, he represented the Crunch at the 2024 AHL All-Star Classic in San Jose.

There is a saying in hockey that goes something like this: If Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anybody can.

We’re not comparing Jack Thompson to the Great One, but you get the point.

To Thompson’s surprise, the day before this year’s NHL trade deadline, he was indeed traded, acquired by the Sharks, along with a third-round pick, from the Lightning for forward Anthony Duclair.

“It was definitely a shock,” Thompson said. “It’s not something I thought was going to happen, or even really crossed my mind during that time. But once you find out, you start to look at the future and what’s maybe best for you and the opportunity you could have in the other place you’re going to.

“For me, it’s just take everything and enjoy it, enjoy the ride. We’re playing professional hockey for a living so no matter where I am, just put my best foot forward and try my best.”

Once the shock wore off and the excitement began to percolate, one of the first people Thompson called was his best friend – and new teammate – Barracuda forward Ethan Cardwell. Cardwell was drafted by the Sharks in 2021 and is in his first year of pro with the Barracuda, leading the team in goals.

“I was pretty shocked when I heard he got traded,” said Cardwell. “I blew him off at first because I was out to dinner with the boys and he said, ‘You gotta take the call now.’”

Thompson and Cardwell were neighbors as young kids in Courtice, Ontario, and played youth hockey together growing up. In 2020, with the Ontario Hockey League canceling its season due to COVID, the two – who also share the same agent, Brett Valliquette – were reunited again, this time in Surahammar, Sweden, in the third-tier Hockeyettan.

“We met each other around 5 or 6 years old,” said Thompson. “We were neighbors growing up, so we started playing hockey together when we were 7. We played from 7 to 16 and then went our separate ways in the OHL, and then found our way back together in Sweden during COVID.”

When Thompson found out he’d be getting called up to the NHL in early January and making his NHL debut on Jan. 6, his family made the eight-hour pilgrimage from Ontario to Boston. Also on the trip: Ethan’s mom, Sarah; dad, Justin; and brother, Tanner.

The influence the two have had on each other’s lives is hard to quantify. They’ve shared the same friend group for most of their lives, they’re members at the same golf course back home in Ontario, and they’ll probably be in each other’s weddings when that day comes. But more than their personal lives, it’s their hockey careers that have been most impacted by each other. Thompson, who’s a defenseman, and Cardwell who’s a forward, swapped positions as kids.

“Funny story, actually,” Thompson recalled. “Cards was a defenseman when we were 7 and I was a forward and then we switched for each other and stuck with that. There was no particular reason for it.”

When the two went overseas, they lived on their own for the first time in their lives. Away from their parents and billets, they were left to their own devices, 3,700 miles from home. Another one of life’s biggest experiences shared.

“It was amazing,” Thompson said. “Under the circumstances, it was an unbelievable season. We were worried we weren’t going to be able to play all year with the OHL not happening. We decided, I think it was after New Year’s, that we would go over to Sweden. It was the first time we lived on our own. It was an experience we’ll remember forever.”

Always a gifted skater, Thompson’s defensive game has made him a premier rearguard in the AHL this season and a prized young prospect for the rebuilding Sharks.

“My first year was definitely a lot of learning going on in Syracuse,” he said. “I had some great older mentors on the team. I tried to be a sponge and soak all the information from them and watch them play. My defensive game has improved a lot from when I started from professional to now, and I think, I’m continuing to grow on that side of my game.”

Cardwell has noticed those same improvements.

“He’s always been super talented and a gifted skater and shooter, but his physicality and defense have come so far in that time, making him one of the best blueliners in this league,” Cardwell said.

Both Thompson and Cardwell always dreamed of making it to the NHL, but not even in their wildest dreams could they have envisioned it would be on the same team.

Now in the same organization, the unthinkable seems more like a formality.


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