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Thomas Casey has chosen a university program with a winning tradition and a pedigree of getting players to the next level.
The 20-year-old Charlottetown native has committed to the UNB Red for the 2021-22 season. UNB, coached by Bedeque native Gardiner MacDougall, has won three of the past four national championships and seven of the past 10 Atlantic University Sport (AUS) titles.
Casey narrowed the schools down to a shortlist before choosing UNB.
“It just kind of felt like a really comfortable fit and I am pleased it came to fruition,” the Charlottetown Islanders right-winger said Tuesday. “They compete for national championships and AUS championship year after year, so it’s something that really excites me. As a hockey player, you play to win games, so I am happy I can join a winning culture and can contribute to that.”
There is still the possibility Casey lands a pro deal, but if he doesn’t, he will be heading to UNB to further his education while continuing to grow his game.
Casey has gone from a sixth-round pick in the 2016 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) draft to being a point behind linemate Cédric Desruisseaux for the league lead in points. He has tied his career high for goals in a season in about half as many games and set career highs for assists and points in a single season.
“It’s awesome,” Casey said, noting the Isles had the top four scorers in the league entering the week. “With team success comes a bit of individual (success). … There’s a bit of internal competition in there, too.”
Isles head coach Jim Hulton remembers head scout Trevor Birt telling him on draft day that Casey can “really fly”. But the bench boss said the hometown boy has exceeded expectations.
“I don't think you could have scripted it any better, the progression of Thomas’ career,” Hulton said.
Need to know
Who – Thomas Casey, a right-winger with the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Charlottetown native turns 21 on April 10. He is the son of Tim and Liz Casey.
The latest – Casey has committed to the UNB Reds for next season. He will study business administration.
UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall said: “He has a high-level, competitive work ethic, elite speed and top-notch character. These factors have helped him become one of the most improved players in the Quebec League, and now he’s among the elite offensive threats on a regular basis.”
Casey said: “My strengths as a player are my speed and play-making ability. … Combining skill with grit is what I’ve tried to exemplify throughout my junior career. I think that’ll be useful in my transition to the U Sports level.
Casey’s QMJHL career statistics
Season GP G A Pts.
2017-18 60 8 4 12
2018-19 54 12 22 34
2019-20 57 26 21 47
2020-21 31 26 34 60
Did you know? Casey played for the Notre Dame Hounds in Wilcox, Sask., for three seasons (his Grade 9-11 years). He said that experience will help prepare him for next year. “I think there’s a lot of similarities between UNB and Notre Dame.”
Reds connections – Islanders assistant coach Kevin Henderson played two seasons for UNB from 2007-08 to 2008-09 before turning pro.
Down time – The Islanders have been work-isolating since the beginning of February. It means players and staff are self-isolating when not practising or playing games. Wednesday was Day 52. Casey said he has watched all the top-rated movies on the internet and he and captain Brett Budgell, who is living with the Caseys, have passed the time by playing a lot of video games.
As Casey’s junior career winds down, a new chapter will start next year. He can lean on his experience breaking into the QMJHL as he learns the ropes at the university or pro ranks.
Casey joined the Islanders as a 17-year-old and carved out a niche for himself in a depth role on an energy line primarily with Liam Peyton and Cayse Ton.
He has been trusted with more responsibility as his career has progressed.
“It’s definitely a complete restart,” Casey said regarding next season. “No matter which school you go to you have work hard and earn your keep and earn the respect of the players and the staff around you.
“I am willing to put in that work and I definitely learned that first-hand in Charlottetown.”
Cracking the lineup could be even harder next season for freshmen as the COVID-19 pandemic means there is an extra year of players in the system. Players who would have been in their final year of eligibility in 2020-21 didn't play and thus could come back in 2021-22.
“One of the things that allows Thomas to go in right away is his ability to play up and down the lineup,” Hulton said. “That’s why he’s going to get some looks at pro is because of his versatility and speed.”
After UNB issued its news release about Casey signing the letter of intent, a number of his Isles teammates congratulated him on social media. It is a reflection of how they feel about their teammate.
“He’s extremely well-respected, admired and liked in the room,” Hulton said, noting he treats everybody the same way and has a lead-by-example approach. “He’s grown into the leadership role.”
Casey is the latest in a list of Islanders who have continued their hockey careers in Fredericton, N.B.
“We’ve been fortunate at UNB to have had a great deal of success with Prince Edward Island-born players,” MacDougall said, “from Gord Tweedy, Don MacAdam and Mike Kelly to more recent stars like Darryl Boyce and Stephen Anderson. Thomas will now have a great opportunity to grow this outstanding tradition.”
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