Harbour Grace — When he started playing hockey as a five-year-old in Harbour Grace, Matthew Thomey had to be up for 6:30 a.m. practices, either with the help of his father Paul or grandfather John.
Paul and John Thomey were hard-core hockey fans and the eldest Thomey was a member of the Conception Bay CeeBees team that won its first Herder Memorial Trophy in 1960.
Fifty years later, his 24-year-old grandson is the captain of the CeeBees and looking to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as a provincial senior hockey champion.
Heading into weekend play, Thomey leads the EastLink CeeBees in scoring with six goals and 11 points. Last season, he was sixth in Avalon East senior hockey scoring with 49 points in 22 games.
Hockey rinks have served as a second home over the last 20 years for Thomey, who grew up in a hockey-mad environment.
“I’ve probably had a stick in my hand since I was two or three in some form or another, playing mini-stick hockey in the house,” he says. “Right from the get-go, it was something I loved, and it hasn’t changed.”
He didn’t just hone his skills at Harbour Grace’s S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium, home to the CeeBees and te town’s minor hockey program. In his backyard, an outdoor rink was set up during the winter, and it became a popular destination for neighbourhood kids, including Tom Snow and Daniel Sparkes, now his CeeBees teammates.
“Everyone wanted to come over and skate. That was always a good bit of fun,” he recalls.
Between ice hockey in Thomey’s backyard and street hockey games in driveways during the warmer months, there was little time available for putting away his stick.
“It was a good childhood,” Thomey says.
From a very young age, Thomey had dreams of playing in the NHL, and left home at 15 to pursue that dream.
Ready to enter high school after having played his first year of bantam hockey, in 2001, Thomey made the move to Niagara Falls, Ont., where he lived with maternal grandparents Morgan and Shirley Keeping. He played a final year of bantam hockey before joining the Niagara Falls Canucks of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
“When you move anywhere, you don’t know anyone, and it takes a while (to adjust),” said Thomey. “ But I was fortunate. I met a few people I became really good buddies with, and being a part of the hockey team helps a lot.
“You become friends with people pretty quick that way.”
His play with the Canucks attracted attention from a number of schools, but he decided to accept an offer from Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
“It was pretty surreal, even when I got the first call from them,” he says. “You always hear about Yale in the movies and media, but it was never something I thought I’d be able to experience firsthand.”
He played for the Bulldogs for four years, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
Yale’s reputation as a prestigious institution was no more evident to Thomey than during his graduation ceremony, where the guest speaker was the former British prime minister Tony Blair.
Following his collegiate career, Thomey tried out for the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, but failed to earn a roster spot.
Glad to have given pro hockey a shot — even an unsuccessful one — Thomey chose to return home, where he secured a job in St. John’s with the provincial government. He plans to enrol in the education program at Memorial University next fall.
As soon as he returned, calls to join the CeeBees started to roll in.
“I never want to give hockey up, whether it’s through playing or coaching. That first year was the year guys like Daniel Sparkes and Steven Greeley, who I played with (while) growing up, were in their first year with the CeeBees. As soon as I told them I was going to be coming home, right away they said, ‘Well, you’ve got to play for the CeeBees.’ It wasn’t long after that I had (CeeBees coach) Ian (Moores) calling.”
It was at the beginning of this season that Thomey was given the captaincy.
“It was an honour. I never found out until about two minutes before we were stepping on the ice to play a game. That’s when Ian told me that I was going to be wearing the ‘C’.”