Tampa Bay Lightning

Reunited, and it feels so good

Childhood friends Nate Thompson and Matt Carle back together again in Tampa Bay

Wednesday, 07.11.2012 / 6:19 PM / Best of the Web
By Peter Pupello  - Lightning Beat Reporter
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Reunited, and it feels so good
Childhood friends Nate Thompson and Matt Carle back together again in Tampa Bay

Of those affected by the Tampa Bay Lightning’s signing of free agent defenseman Matt Carle, perhaps none was more excited than Bolts forward Nate Thompson.

That’s because the two share a special bond from their childhood days growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, so while no one is expected to be caught off guard when each finishes their checks this season, forgive the pair if they start finishing each other’s sentences.

“We’ve been on the same team every year since we were six years old,” Thompson said. “It’s only fitting that we would be joined again as teammates in the NHL.”

As youngsters, Thompson and Carle competed on behalf of a successful youth traveling team called the Alaska All-Stars, a squad also comprising forward Tim Wallace that was renowned for winning several tournaments around the Alaska area nearly two decades ago.

From there, they both went their separate ways through college and up through the minor ranks, only to arrive again at a mutual destination in Tampa Bay several years later.

Thompson battled his way through the Boston Bruins’ organization for parts of three seasons before finally cracking an NHL lineup during the 2006-07 season. Carle, meanwhile, starred collegiately at the University of Denver for three seasons and was awarded the Hobey Baker Award following his final season with the Pioneers.

Midway through the 2009-10 season, Thompson was claimed off waivers by the Bolts, while Carle chose to sign with the Lightning just last week after initially being traded to Tampa Bay as part of the Dan Boyle deal exactly four years earlier to the day.

“It’s funny how things work out sometimes,” Carle said. “But right now, I’m happy to be back in Tampa Bay and expect nothing but great things. The organization is completely different, and it all starts at the top.”

Well, that’s not entirely true.

For the most part, the Lightning is a much different organization than it was during Carle’s first stint in 2008, but this time around, there still will be a few familiar faces lingering around the locker room come time for training camp in September.

“Vinny, Marty, Bugsy, Stamkos, and Adam Hall as well, those guys are still there from a few years back, so they were always a fun group, and I’m looking forward to playing with them again.”

And of course, there’s Nate too.

“I’m glad he chose to sign with us,” Thompson added. “It was a good feeling when I found out he was coming to Tampa, and I really couldn’t be more excited.”

The two, in fact, are even an amiable pair off the ice as well.

When asked what advice he gave his long-time friend prior to signing with Tampa Bay, in hopes to influence his decision, Thompson replied, “I just told him to pack his sun screen.”

And what about the benefits of playing on the same team with Thompson again?

“It will make it easier for our parents to watch our games,” Carle said.

Finally, when asked about what makes Tampa Bay such a secret hockey hotbed for natives of Alaska, Thompson insisted it was because “we only have 10 days of sunshine back home,” while Carle replied in a similar fashion, supposing the reason had more to do with “maybe the warm weather.”

While there is no definitive answer to the inquiry, this is for certain:

No Alaska natives had ever played in the NHL prior to Scott Gomez with the New Jersey Devils during the 1999-00 season. As of this past March, however, 11 different Alaskans had played in the NHL, including seven in 2011-12 alone. Furthermore, only two, Thompson and Wallace, had appeared in the lineup simultaneously for the same team.

“It’s a pretty hockey-crazed group back home,” Thompson said. “They’re always rooting for us and hope to see us do well.”

Recently, Thompson, Carle, Wallace and several other Anchorage natives set out on the group’s annual summer fishing trip, which for the most part, Carle said, “is something we do every year, where a bunch of us can get away from it all and catch some fish, share some stories and have a few cold beverages.”

According to Thompson, however, there was one memory in particular which just about sums up the pair’s 21-year old history of friendship.

“It was the last day of the trip,” Thompson recalled, “and we always have this competition to see who can catch the 30-inch trout, which is the minimum size you have to catch in order to mount it.

“So there were just a few hours left and I caught a big one, only to find out that when we measured it, it came in at 29 inches. I thought that was it, that I was the winner, and then a few minutes later Matt caught his and it also turned out to be 29 inches, so we were both really close, but just knowing how things have gone with us our whole lives, it was kind of funny that we caught fish that were the exact same length. I’m not sure anyone could have come up with a better ending.”

Perhaps not even the professional screenplay writers who penned the popular 1999 hockey flick Mystery, Alaska, which bears the name of the duo’s home state. Although, as far as the pair is concerned, the film is a bit of a misnomer anyway, seeing that Thompson and Carle are hardly a mystery to one another at all.