Crunch Rookie Thomas Shows 'Solid Progression'

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Ben Thomas soaked in what he could in last year’s eight-game stint in Syracuse.

The defenseman joined the Crunch after the conclusion of his junior season last spring, and recorded his first pro goal and three assists. More importantly, Thomas learned what to expect and gained confidence knowing he could play at the AHL level.

Thomas is continuing to show progress during his rookie season as he adjusts to pro hockey.

“I think it was good for me last year to step in at the end, get some experience and show myself that I can play at this level,” Thomas said. “That gave me confidence coming into this year, and I was able to get off to a pretty good start. Those games last year really helped me.”

Thomas has one goal, six assists and is a plus-one over 26 games this season in Syracuse. Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx believes there’s more Thomas can contribute offensively.

“I think Ben had a solid progression early,” Groulx said. “I think he has more room for improvement still. I’d like him to jump more in the play. I think he has got that offensive skill set that we haven’t seen enough.”

Early on, Thomas is learning how to deal with not only much bigger and stronger players than in junior, but a much faster pace of play.

“The speed and the size of the players are really big differences, but it’s also go, go, go,” the 20-year-old said. “In junior sometimes you could get away with gliding or taking a shift off. Here, if you do that, you’re going to pay.”

Off the ice, Thomas is adjusting to playing pro hockey on the other side of North America.

Thomas spent most of his junior career in his hometown of Calgary, and played for the Western Hockey League’s Hitmen in four different seasons. In his last year of junior, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2014 fourth-rounder was traded to the Vancouver Giants, where he posted eight goals and 17 assists in 60 games.

“It’s about a six hour flight away now, and that’s a little different,” Thomas said. “At first it’s tough because you’re not seeing your parents a lot when you were close with your family and friends. I think we’ve got a tight group here with a lot of good teammates, and I’m living with our other rookie (Dominik Masin). So they’ve made it easy for me to adjust and settle in.”

Now Thomas is working to hone his craft at the AHL level in order to make it to the next.

“I think I just want to be consistent night in and night out, and progressively take my game to a higher level every month and every day,” Thomas said. “I just want to improve every day, and learn as much as I can in this first season and hopefully make the transition to the next level as quickly as possible.”

Pictured: Crunch defenseman Ben Thomas looks to make a pass against the Comets at the Onondaga County War Memorial Dec. 10.