After a decade and a half in the National Hockey League, Anchorage’s Nate Thompson has officially called it a career. He announced his retirement Wednesday on social media.
“I always enjoyed offseason training and getting ready for the upcoming season,” he said in an interview. “I told myself that if I ever didn’t feel motivated to do it or my body wasn’t in a place to want to do it anymore, that’s when I’d retire, knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to prepare like I wanted to.”
He played for the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League for the 2022-23 season, and a month or two after the end of the season, he knew the time had come — so he “made the call” on his professional career.
Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins in the sixth round of the 2003 NHL Draft, the journeyman forward from Anchorage played with nine different teams over 15 seasons. His is the second-longest NHL career by an Alaskan, behind fellow Anchorage product Scott Gomez, who played 16 seasons for seven teams.
“It was definitely something I’m proud of,” Thompson said. “I was able to carve out a pretty long career and it’s pretty rare to have a career like that. I’m extremely proud of the fact that I was able to not only stay in the league that long but still be able to be an impact player for a long time and be consistent.”
The 38-year-old last played in the NHL for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2021-22 season and also had stints with the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks, Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets.
“From the time I was 4 until 38, hockey has been my life and best friend. I’m beyond grateful and thankful for all the great people I’ve met and friendships I’ve made,” Thompson posted on Twitter. “All good things must come to an end so thank you to all who supported me along this journey.”
He finished his NHL career with 164 points (65 goals, 99 assists) and 401 penalty minutes in 844 games and added 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 86 career playoff games. The team he appeared in the most career games with was the Lightning from 2009-2014 at 305 followed by the Anaheim Ducks from 2014-2017 at 159.
“I can proudly say that I left it all out on the ice every night,” Thompson said.
While the term journeyman can sometimes have a negative connotation associated with it, Thompson “took it as a compliment” and was glad that his skills were in demand throughout his time in the league.
“Towards the end of my career, I was traded a lot more but at the same time, I looked at it as someone wanted me,” he said. “Usually I was getting traded around the deadline to go to a playoff team to try to make a run.”
Unfortunately, he was never able to get to the Stanley Cup Finals during his career. But through his travels around the league, he came close a few times and has many friends and former coaches who have reached the game’s pinnacle.
“I went to the conference final three times, one with Tampa and two with Anaheim,” he said. “I lost in game seven in two of them and game six in one.”
During a brief lockout in the NHL that delayed the start of the 2012-13 season, Thompson had a 24-game stint with the Alaska Aces, which was his first time playing in his hometown since he was in high school.
“It was awesome to get a chance to do it,” he said. “To be able to play at home for a minor league team was something special, not just for me, but for my parents being able to drive and come watch me play. To live at home for a couple months before I went back to Tampa to start the NHL season was something I’ll never forget.”
Before his professional career, Thompson played four years of junior hockey with the Seattle Thunderbirds from 2001-2005 and two years at the high school level in his hometown at Dimond High, where he helped lead the Lynx to a state title in the 2000-01 season.
He now lives in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles. His advice to young Alaskans looking to follow in his footsteps is “to have fun and have passion.”
“I never really looked at playing hockey ever as a job my whole life, but I got to do it as a job, and I felt very lucky,” Thompson said. “For me, it’s pretty simple. Just work hard and have fun. If you don’t do those things, why are you even doing it?”
He believes there’s more to hockey than “just making it to the NHL and being a superstar,” because there are a lot of important life lessons to be learned from playing as well.
“I think it’s great for kids coming out of Alaska to have something like that as a foundation,” Thompson said.