Features | 2/23/2012 1:20:21 PM | Chris Ryndak
|Mike Thompson (Photo: Bill Wippert)|
The NLL All-Star Game is typically more of an offensive showcase than a defensive battle. Last year’s exhibition featured 56 combined goals and 164 shots on net. Buffalo Bandits goaltender Mike Thompson, set to make his All-Star debut this weekend, is most likely going to be pretty busy.
The four goaltenders in last year’s All-Star game faced an average of 40.5 shots and they each only played half the game. The Bandits have averaged 48 shots against through six games this season, so Thompson may get a full game’s worth of work in those 30 minutes.
“I’m still expecting about 80 shots,” Thompson joked. “I’m really looking forward to it and having fun with the whole experience.”
Five other Bandits will also be on the East’s roster this year when the game is played at First Niagara Center on Saturday. John Tavares, the captain of the East All-Stars, and defenseman Billy Dee Smith will join Thompson in the starting lineup. Forward Luke Wiles and defensemen Chris White and Scott Self, who was added to the roster on Tuesday, are on the team as well. They’ll see a familiar face behind the bench as Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour will serve as an assistant coach.
“In other sports the hometown crew always gets all the love, so I’m excited to have it in Buffalo,” Thompson said. “We have the greatest fans anywhere. It all starts with them.”
The Bandits haven’t played a game since February 12, and won’t play again until March 3 when the league’s leading scorer John Grant Jr. and the undefeated Colorado Mammoth come to town. With all that time off between regular season games, Thompson said he’s looking to treat the All-Star game as a practice of sorts to help him get back in the swing of things.
“I’m going to try and use it as a tool to improve my game, get back on a roll here in Buffalo,” he explained. “We’re on a bit of a skid right now but we’re trying to turn things around and I’m just going to use it as a training tool right now to try and re-focus.”
In his sixth season with the Bandits, the 33-year-old goaltender is 2-2 with a 12.09 goals against average and a .748 save percentage. He was named the NLL Defensive Player of the Week on January 20 following a 41-save performance against the Toronto Rock in Buffalo’s season opener. Receiving that honor may have seemed very unlikely a few months earlier.
Thompson suffered a knee injury in the gold medal game of the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in Prague back in May. He said he had reconstructive surgery over the summer and has been working hard to get back into game shape ever since.
“I was right on schedule so that’s why I was confident coming into the season,” he said. “I knew the injury would be healed and I was just concerned about the strength. That was my only real concern coming back into the season. It still feels great and I’m just continuing what I’m working on.”
The Bandits have paid extra attention to strength and conditioning this year and the goaltenders aren’t exempt from any of the workouts. Thompson’s doctors have told him he may not have full strength back until next year, so maintaining his training regimen during the season has been beneficial to his recovery. That hard work has helped earn him his first All-Star selection.
Thompson said that while he played lacrosse on-and-off as a kid, he didn’t start to really take the game seriously until he played in juniors. By then he was 19-years-old and had still never taken a shot while wearing goalie pads.
“I never actually played goalie in lacrosse until my last year of juniors, so I was like 21,” he explained. “I got a little bit of a late start compared to other guys in the league.”
Thompson made his NLL debut in 2001 with the Ottawa Rebel. He appeared in eight games that season but would have to wait five years for another shot. The Bandits signed him as a free agent prior to the 2007 season.
“That was probably mostly due to my geography,” Thompson said. “I’m way up here in Akwesasne, [Ont.] and it’s like five hours away from the eastern mecca of Toronto. We’re kind of out in the sticks out this way.”
He said it took some time for him to turn some heads, but he got scouted in summer leagues and eventually hooked up with the Bandits. It’s worked out pretty well for him so far. He and Ken Montour helped backstop the team to the 2008 NLL title and last season, he finished second in the league in GAA and third in save percentage amongst starting goalies.
“It’s been a great experience, my time in Buffalo,” he said. “I’ve been real fortunate for it to happen and I’m looking forward to this weekend.”
Knowing full well of how last year’s All-Star game turned out – a 30-26 victory for the East – Thompson is keeping his expectations for the game light.
“If I keep it under 15 [goals against], I’ve done my job,” Thompson joked. “…I’m going to have the best shooters in the West coming at me so that’s what I’m going to be looking forward to.”