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February 06, 2016

Errol Thompson

There have been less than three dozen players from Canada's smallest province - Prince Edward Island - in National Hockey League history. Errol Thompson, who played over 600 games in the NHL in the 1970s, is one of the most notable.

Errol Thompson was born in beautiful Summerside. From an early age he was a minor hockey star who seemed destined to leave the island to chase hockey dreams. He would play entire games, starring both as a defenseman and a forward. As a sixteen year old he moved to Nova Scotia to star for the Halifax Junior Canadiens for three seasons.

But that was almost the end for Thompson's hockey dreams. He was considering returning to PEI to attend university and began playing senior hockey. He was actually playing for the Charlottetown Royals for $15 a game when the Leafs had a scout named Johnny Bower attended on the advice of local scout Jack Ready. Bower was impressed and convinced the Leafs to draft Thompson in the second round of the 1970 NHL draft.

"I was amazed," said Thompson. "Nobody had even heard of me and I had no idea I'd be drafted."

A stocky and powerful skater, Thompson was drafted as a defenseman but minor league coach Marcel Pronovost converted him back to a winger. It would be a very good move as he joined the Maple Leafs in the 1972-73 season.

Thompson's apprenticeship continued in his first two seasons with the Leafs as he did not get a lot of ice time under coach Red Kelly. But Kelly eventually learned to trust to Thompson, and he responded with 25 goals in 1974-75. It would be the first of six consecutive 20 or more goals seasons.

Playing on a line with Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald, Thompson erupted for 43 goals in 1975-76. He was just the second player in Toronto Maple Leafs long history to reach the 40 goal mark, joining Frank Mahovlich.

By 1978 Thompson's offensive mindset landed him in the doghouse of defensive minded coach Roger Nielson. The Leafs traded Thompson for Dan Maloney, captain of the Detroit Red Wings.

Thompson would continue his 20-plus goal seasons, even notching 34 in 1979-80. But the highlight of his tenure in Detroit may have been being chosen by Ted Linsday as the new captain of the Red Wings.

Thompson would retire in 1981 after splitting the season with Detroit and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He walked away from two more years on a guaranteed NHL contract to return to his beloved Prince Edward Island.

Thompson returned home and became a marketing representative for Coca-Cola and then for Labatt's Brewery.

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