2021  w w c  thompson  feature

Running in parallel

When a Team Canada spot seemed out of reach, Claire Thompson turned her focus to university, only to find a new level and earn another chance to wear the Maple Leaf

Lee Boyadjian
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August 28, 2021
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There have been two constants in Claire Thompson’s life: hockey and school, one always coming to the forefront when the time is right.

In high school, hockey was the focus; school was secondary. But the summer after graduation, that reality flipped. In August 2015, Thompson earned an invite to Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team selection camp, but ultimately wasn’t picked for a three-game series against the United States. So she packed her bags, headed for Princeton University and put her focus on school.

“Not that I lost hope, but I figured my style of play wasn’t what the national team was looking for,” Thompson remembers of her reaction that summer. “So I definitely just kind of focused my energy not into proving them wrong…but trying to become a better player for my college team.”

At Princeton, Thompson flourished under Tigers head coach Cara Morey, a Team Canada alumna who worked as a coach with Canada’s National Women’s Program throughout the 2010s.

“She always did have something really special about the way she played,” Morey says of her former captain. “It wasn’t like this was do-or-die for Claire, she just wanted to become the best player and the best person she could.

“And while she worked on that, Hockey Canada noticed.”

Morey says Thompson is a gifted offensive defenceman who can see the ice well, but needed to learn how and when to take risks.

“We would have an agreement…that if she came up with a high-risk move through the middle [and gave up a turnover], she just had to get the puck back before they scored,” Morey laughs.

“She always encouraged me to just play the game how I wanted to play it,” Thompson says. “But also learning to balance trying to make a play or set someone else up for success versus the safe play is something that I definitely grew into across my four years [at Princeton].”

In four years as a Tiger, Thompson played in 129 games, recording 31 goals and 56 assists. She was named Ivy League First All-Star Team and won the Ivy League championship in her junior year, and helped the team qualify for the NCAA tournament (which was cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic) in her senior year. But as impressive as her hockey statistics were, Thompson’s schooling was even moreso.

She was recognized annually for her academic success by the American Hockey Coaches Association as an All-American Scholar. Majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology with a focus on theoretical ecology, Thompson thought she was heading for a career in research and academia. But an invitation to Canada’s National Women’s Development Team in the summer of 2019 once again changed her focus.

“It was honestly kind of shocking and a bit nerve-wracking,” explains Thompson, who had moved to Washington, D.C., that summer to research her senior thesis, and was not at her family’s home in Toronto where she would typically train. “So for a bit I was thinking, oh my goodness this is finally my chance to get back into it and I am not in the city I want to be in!

“But I just went out and played the way that I had played to get myself there and well, I guess it worked out.”

Morey was also at the camp, assisting with the development squad, proud to be watching her all-star blue-liner get another chance with Team Canada. But having Morey there would prove to be helpful in more ways than one, as she was able to give the coaching staff some insight into Thompson.

While players typically napped or were together during free time, Thompson was often sitting on her own, studying.

“I was explaining, ‘Let Claire read her science, let her study, because…studying calms her down and gets her ready,’” Morey says. “And she had the best camp of her life and…by the end…they finally understood that part of her pre-game sometimes is opening up an organic chemistry textbook.”

Thompson would make the development team that summer and play in a three-game series against the U.S., recording a goal and an assist. That fall, she was invited to play with Canada’s National Women’s Team in a two-game series against the Americans and by March 2020 was named to the national team for the IIHF Women’s World Championship (which was also cancelled due to COVID-19).

The humble 23-year-old credits many others with her meteoric rise to the senior level: her minor hockey coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, family and Morey, but it is her collegiate coach who turns the tables back on Thompson, saying she has earned her spot and deserves to be there.

“It is funny that the way the outside world might perceive her story as coming out of nowhere, but obviously we thought she was incredible when we recruited her,” Morey says. “I was proud of her even before she made (Team Canada), but then to see it all come to fruition three years later and to get the chance that she wanted, I’m so proud of her.”

“Sometimes when I step back and look at it, I kind of laugh,” Thompson says of her journey to Team Canada. “Freshman, sophomore or junior year ‘Claire’ would have never expected this.

“I got really into my academics and was really excited by a lot of the stuff I was learning in my independent research…and then now that I’m back to hockey and so excited about that.

“They really do run in parallel.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
dsaillant@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
ssharkey@hockeycanada.ca

 

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