Portland Winterhawks/Keith Dwiggins

Hard work leads Winterhawks Thompson to WHL contract

The town of Russell, Manitoba, is by no means a big place, but some hockey players from the community are making noise at the next level in big cities. Among them is Ryder Thompson.

After getting drafted in the fifth round — 105th — overall by the Portland Winterhawks at the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft, Thompson took part in his first main camp with the team.

It didn’t take long for Thompson to impress the entire organization. Thompson jumped right into things with the big boys after a solid day with the rookies on August 20. The Russell native then was invited to take part in main camp from August 21-24.

“My mentality was to just go there and make a good impression and everything,” Thompson said. “It really was a great experience. It was definitely a learning experience. Now if I get called up this year or even next season, I’ll know the pace and everything. I’ll also be able to prepare better because I know exactly what I’ll be going into.”

(Photo courtesy of Tanya Thompson) Ryder Thompson with a smile on his face signs his first WHL Standard Player Contract with the Portland Winterhawks. Ryder’s family was right by his side as he did.

After main camp, which included the Neely Cup, ended on August 24, Ryder was rewarded for his solid performance through the first few days when he signed his first WHL Standard Player Contract. He joined Kyle Chyzowski as the two players that got contracts from camp.

“It was awesome. I didn’t expect it so that made it even more special,” commented Thompson. “It really means a lot me and it’s a moment I won’t forget.”

That wasn’t the end of the memorable week for Ryder, though. He was asked to stay and practice with the team and play in their opening exhibition tournament last weekend. Ryder accepted and the good times kept on rolling.

The preseason tournament was August 30-September 1 in Everett. The team played in three games, and Ryder suited up in two. In a tight 3-2 loss to Tri-City, Ryder was a +1. In their 4-3 shootout loss against Vancouver, Ryder was again a +1.

“I didn’t really know what to expect with the speed and everything,” he added. “Everyone was so fast and skilled, so it was a challenge. With that said, I think I did a good job, and I gave it my all.”

“I thought I played a strong defensive game,” said Thompson. “I also chipped in offensively whenever I could. Not overdoing things was a big thing for me, and I think I did a good job of achieving my goal.”

Ryder is now back home after he was re-assigned. He’s set to join the Rink Hockey Academy Elite 15 team this season. Playing for the bantam prep team last year, Ryder had 23 points in 29 regular season games. He also put up one assist in three playoff games.

As he gets set to embark on another academy season, Thompson is looking for even more improvement.

“I’m definitely looking forward to the season — getting on the ice every day and seeing all my friends,” said Thompson. “I have to take things super seriously and not take any days off.”

“It’s always nice to see your name on the scoresheet, so I’m hoping I can help the team offensively, but that’s not my main focus right now,” he added.

(Photo courtesy of Tanya Thompson) Ryder stands in front of the MODA Center, where the team plays several games throughout the season.

Ryder is eligible to return to Portland this season for a maximum of five games if they wish to call him up. Regardless of if he gets into WHL games this season, the 15-year-old is poised to make next year’s team.

“When I went into camp, I was just looking to make an impression and that sort of thing,” he concluded. “Now that I’m signed and everything, I want to show them that I belong there full-time. That’s my goal for next year.”

Playing for his home region’s AAA team (Parkland Rangers) back in the 2017-18 season, Thompson helped the team win a bronze at the provincials.

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