For University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) student-athlete Aidan Thompson, and Copy Editor for The Medium, the beginning of March means more than final papers and exams. It’s the month of the U of T tri-campus ice hockey playoffs—a chance to renew rivalries between the school’s three branches as Mississauga, Scarborough, and St. George teams face each other in a five-month competitive season. Currently chasing a championship for UTM, Thompson’s path to this moment wasn’t exactly straightforward.
“I think I started [playing hockey] kind of late, compared to most people,” he says of his introduction to the sport. “I remember my parents bought me a set of hockey equipment and signed me up for these training camps when I was eight years old, and I cried the whole time—I didn’t want to be there.”
After some encouragement from his friends and family, Thompson started minor ice hockey at age 11 and didn’t look back. Through both local and school-affiliated teams, he evolved into a versatile player who could slot into the lineup in multiple positions. But the prospect of aging out of minor hockey seemed to signal the end of that evolution.
“After I graduated high school, I’d come to the realization that I would probably never play organized sports again,” he recalls. “It was kind of sad.”
It wasn’t until midway through his first year at UTM that Thompson discovered the UTM tri-campus men’s ice hockey league. After happening upon a poster advertising Eagles hockey, he decided to email head coach Phil Power to see if there was any possibility of joining the team.
“Knowing that it was the middle of the season, I didn’t have my hopes too high,” Thompson says, but an injury to one of the Eagles’ roster players opened up an opportunity, allowing him to step in as a fifth-string defenseman. Then, after only two months of limited ice time, his hockey career was once again put on hold, this time by Covid-19 restrictions.
Like all tri-campus sports, men’s ice hockey was cancelled throughout the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons. A full two years passed before Thompson, now in his fourth year, received a message from Power asking if he was interested in returning to the team.
His answer? “Absolutely.”
A grueling tryout followed the long layoff. “We were just huffing and puffing and gasping for air, pretty much by the 10th minute,” Thompson laughs. But the team was back and ready to compete for the 2022-2023 season.
Now a centre for the Eagles, Thompson is preparing for a playoff match against the talented St. George Black squad. While facing the championship favourite in a knockout round may sound intimidating, the team is drawing motivation from an important win against St. George earlier this season.
Thompson credits the Eagles’ captain, Hussam Abdulnabi, for willing the team to victory on February 1, 2023, with one of his legendary locker room speeches. In the speech, the captain stressed how “he knows that every single one of us has another gear, and how it’s just a matter of locking that in and doing every single thing that we can to beat this team,” Thompson explains. When the Eagles came up with a 3-2 win, “it was this Hollywood moment that I think everyone was smiling about for days afterwards.”
While he hopes for another Hollywood moment in the playoffs, it’s ultimately the sense of team spirit that keeps drawing Thompson back to the sport. “The hockey team has definitely been a place where I’ve made a lot of friends—and a lot of good friends,” he says. Coaches Power and Peter Christopoulos are also important figures that “pour a lot of energy and time into [the Eagles]” in order to continue the legacy of competitive hockey at UTM.
Looking forward, Thompson plans to return to UTM in the fall to complete his major studies in the Professional Writing and Communication program. As he works towards a career in journalism, he doesn’t see himself getting too far from the sport he loves. “Whether it’s beer league hockey, pond hockey, or just going for afternoon skates at the local community centre, it’ll definitely be something that’s always in my life,” he concludes.