Forward Garrett Thompson has the luxury of perspective. The beginnings of his hockey career were largely in Michigan, between playing juniors in Traverse City, to his college career at Ferris State University, but after that, he had to grow into a much more worldly individual—literally.
From Binghamton, New York, to Fort Wayne, Indiana, to San Antonio, Texas, to Des Moines, Iowa, and across the pond to Asker, Norway, and Zvolen, Slovakia, Thompson has been places.
That journey would have happened without going from someone who was resigned to play club hockey at the University of Michigan after his junior career.
Bob Daniels, with 28 years of experience behind the bench at Ferris State University, has seen many players come and go through the program. The 61-year-old has 455 wins to his credit. 89 of them were with Thompson in his lineup, and that string of success included an NCAA runner-up finish in 2012.
Club hockey’s competitive balance doesn’t hold a candle in terms of overall skill level and expectation level to Division I hockey, especially a program that, just two years after Thompson’s commitment, made it to the NCAA championship game with Thompson in the top six forward group that led the charge.
Daniels took a chance on a young Thompson, after viewing him multiple times on Sunday afternoons. Thompson was playing for the Traverse City North Stars, 90 minutes up the road from Big Rapids, Michigan.
“Would I have guessed year one, that he would have a great pro career? Probably not. I just wanted him to develop into a great college player,” Daniels continued. “But he had those traits, the love and the passion for the game, and a passion for self-improvement. It’s his demeanor, his approach, that has allowed him to improve.”
Daniels added that it was his junior year that he thought Thompson had what it took to be a viable professional.
“I relate back to those years at Ferris State. I very often go back to those memories and think about how things were, and what type of player and person I was. During the ride we made it to the national championship, what I learned didn’t stick as much as I wanted it to,” Thompson admitted. “I didn’t learn as quickly as I wanted to. But the later I get in my career, I relate back to that now. As the years have gone by is when I have been gaining that understanding of those lessons.”
Thompson’s story, from junior player to longshot college recruit to Bulldog to professional, is now an easy teaching moment for Daniels, as he recruits players to play in Big Rapids, Michigan.
“He’s one of the guys who is a torch bearer because we have a lot of late bloomers in our recruiting group every year. He was able to develop because of his mentality and his burning desire to get better,” Daniels said. “We use him and [Minnesota Wild forward] Gerald Mayhew as examples, guys that aged out of junior, not five-star recruits, but guys that have made a career in hockey. For Garrett, I think he had some God-given talent, and combined with a strong work ethic and determination.”
Now entering his seventh season as a pro, Thompson made the choice to return to the United States after a two-year stint overseas. He put together a sterling championship season in the frozen tundra of Frisk, Norway during the 2018–19 season, and then followed it up with a solid campaign in Zvolen, Slovakia. He didn’t lose his touch, even an entire ocean away from family and friends.
“Going to Europe taught me to embrace the unexpected and unfamiliar. That’s a lot of the reason I decided to go to Greenville, it was the unknown and the challenge more than anything else,” Thompson said. “Where I am in my career and everywhere I’ve played, those challenges draw the best out of me.
“This year going into it, when your back is against the wall and times are tough, the adversity is when you get the best out of people. I’m really excited to see what Greenville has. It’s a fresh start.”
Greenville Swamp Rabbits head coach Andrew Lord wanted to sign Thompson for his experience, and his professionalism. He would immediately become part of the new veteran core under a new head coach.
“I’ve been tracking Garrett for years now back to his Fort Wayne days and it’s great to finally land him,” Lord said of his veteran signing. “What stands out more than anything is how great a teammate and person Garrett is, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him on board for next season.”
Yes, the near point-per-game pace will be an added benefit to the Swamp Rabbits’ roster this upcoming season. Those classified as “veteran” players need to be true impact players because of how few you can have on an ECHL roster—four, to be exact. They have to carry the load, and set the example for the rest of the club.
“[Lord] and I had spoken for multiple days and we had a lot of those discussions in terms of leadership and setting the standard and setting the pace,” Thompson said. “I plan to fill those shoes as a leader. I want to do my part in being that person and the player that I am.”
Thompson has seen his fair share of seasons that had all the promise in the world, only to fall short. He was a crucial part of two Komets teams that made it to the Western Conference Final, only to have their journey end right there. He had to wait his turn for a championship to finally happen.
“Winning a championship helps you as an asset to a team. I’ve been to championship games and fell short,” Thompson said. “That gives you a lot of experience too. Being a winner is the gold standard so you can’t match that. Over the years of falling short so many times, it drives you more. When we won in Norway, it was a surreal feeling. When you get there, you know ‘this is how you do it.’”
When asked about what his new head coach liked about his acquisition, it was an immediate one-word answer. “Everything.”
“He has tons of character, he’s good veteran guy that’s been around,” Lord added. “He cares deeply about winning. He skates well for his size. He has a good scoring touch. All of his reference checks were incredible. He was can’t-miss.”
At 30 years of age, Thompson will be relied on to be a leader, whether he wears a letter for the Swamp Rabbits or not.
“It’s not about wearing a letter. Regardless I’m going to be the person, the player I am,” Thompson said. “I would love to support the team as a leader, but it won’t change anything about who I am.”
Thompson is the ultimate example of “been there, done that” for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits heading into the 2020–21 season. Back-to-back 20+ goal seasons at the ECHL level, a championship to his name, and plenty of experience in multiple countries has given him the perspective to be someone who leads the way for Greenville.