by DOUG PHILPOTT
Outside the Toronto Tomahawks dressing room, after a recent game, a 10-year-old minor lacrosse player, admiring a freshly autographed lacrosse ball, was overheard saying, “Gee, dad he’s a nice guy.”
The youngster’s compliment had been directed at Tommies’ Brian Thompson, a lanky six-foot, 160-pound forward.
The 26-year-old Thompson, a well-mannered sometimes soft spoken, but articulate native of Huntsville, Ont., has proven to be as tough and rough as any of his competitors when he doffs his street clothes for a Tomahawks’ uniform.
People who meet this young man away from the arena often raise their eyebrows in disbelief when they learn he plays in the National Lacrosse League.
“After first meeting me, people just can’t understand why I would want to make a living playing such a tough game as lacrosse,” said Thompson. “I guess my physical appearance doesn’t fit their mental expectations of what the typical lacrosse player should look like. They’re sure to say, isn’t there an easier way to make a living, but they don’t realize that you can play this game without getting killed or seriously injured.”
Thompson admits that lacrosse is a very physical and sometimes violent game, but he’s quick to point out that the hardest check never gets as much applause as the prettiest goal-scoring play.
Anyone, who regularly follows the NLL and the Tomahawks, will attest to Thompson’s abundance of offensive and defensive talents.
Through 32 games to date, he has led the team in scoring with 67 goals and 69 assists for 126 points and, at one time, stood fourth in the NLL points race.
Thompson doesn’t seem to mind the tough going, but a top scorer normally attracts more than his share of physical attention by the opposition.
A top junior and senior competitor for the past 10 years, Thompson has become used to the constant pressure and extra attention which usually includes legal tactics as well as illegal cross-checks, slashes, trips, etc.
“I realized a long time ago that if I was going to play my game, which is scoring, I would have to get used to being hit,” Thompson explained. “I don’t mind it; I don’t think there are many in the league who do. If they did, they’d quit.”
Thompson missed his first game recently, sporting a swollen right hand with two broken fingers, attesting the fact that he isn’t indestructible.
He also had a separated shoulder, pinched nerves and assorted stitches as personal souvenirs of combat.
Unfortunately, his hand injury occurred late in a game in which he had seen limited action on the power play. Prior to the game, he was running a high temperature, suffering from a bout with the flu.
To date, Thompson has served 61 minutes in penalties, second highest on the Tomahawks.
“I’ll take as much checking as the next guy, but if someone wants to exchange cheap shots, I’m not just going to stand there and take it. If you don’t make a stand you just won’t survive in this league.”
Thompson and his older brother, Ivan, currently one of the best lacrosse players in Western Canada, got their first introduction to the game through the Huntsville Minor Lacrosse Association.
Thompson progressed through the local minor system and, after one season of Junior A competition with Huntsville of the Ontario Lacrosse Association, he moved to the OLA Oshawa Green Gaels, then under the guidance of Tomahawks’ general manager and coach Jim Bishop.
“I’ve played on three consecutive Minto Cup national junior champions for Bish in Oshawa. Then I went back to Huntsville for my final year of junior eligibility.”
It was in Huntsville that Thompson got into what almost became his career—radio broadcasting.
“In the 60s, a good friend of mine was the manager at CKAR Radio. He asked if I’d like to take a voice test. I agreed and got the job. I enjoyed doing it, but the money wasn’t good enough to raise a family on.”
Thompson was married when he was 21. He and his wife, Lynda, have two daughters, Kristen and Lea.
“I got out of radio and became a salesman, but my real love was still lacrosse.”
Thompson then travelled around playing lacrosse for different teams.
“Last year, I ended up in British Columbia playing senior lacrosse with the Victoria Shamrocks.
“It’s a different type of lacrosse out there. It’s a much more defensive style of play and harder hitting than in the NLL. The average score there might be 12-10, but here it’s more like 18-15.
“But in the NLL, there is more class and the style is definitely more crowd pleasing.
“It has taken me a while to adjust to the current play, but I think my experience out West has helped me overall and I’m a much better defensive player for it.”
Thompson’s value to the Tomahawks has become even more apparent as they make their late-season drive for a playoff berth. His value is underscored by the fact that he won his second consecutive Tommies’ [weekly] Most Valuable Player award.
His MVP nominations have also been financially rewarding to him as he has picked up two cheques for $200 each and stands to earn another $1,000 if he keeps the lead until the end of the season.
Bishop believes Thompson is playing the best lacrosse of his career.
“Brian is an all-around player,” said Bishop. “He’s the type of competitor a coach would like to have more of on his club.
“He’s not only a fine team man on the floor, but he’s always helping the team when the game is over. He gets the other guys up and keeps spirits high. He’s one of the leaders.”
Discussing his play, Bishop noted he has improved defensively.
“He’s always been good defensively, but this year he’s playing exceptionally good defence and has added a fierceness.
“He’s playing the best all-around lacrosse I’ve ever seen him play, and we’ve been associated for many years.”
What does Brian Thompson find most frustrating during a lacrosse game?
“Not playing because of an injury is awfully frustrating for me. Having to watch a game from the press box is almost unbearable and gets on my nerves. I just wish I could be out there doing something to help us win.”