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Thomas Casey has gone from foot soldier to premier player during his major junior hockey career.
The 20-year-old son of Tim and Liz Casey broke into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) on the Charlottetown Islanders’ fourth line, using his speed to disrupt opponents and provide energy for his squad. Four years later, the Charlottetown native entered Friday’s action in a three-way tie with teammate Cedric Désruisseaux and Cape Breton’s Shawn Element (all overage players) for the league’s scoring lead with 11 points in five games.
“We have four really good, deep lines and really mobile D that makes scoring easy,” Casey said. “It’s been awesome to get off to a good start, but none of that happens for me and Ceddy without the guys around us.”
Casey found a role earlier in his career, built a niche for himself but didn’t forget the other components of his game.
“Junior hockey is all about development,” he said. “Thankfully, I got drafted to Charlottetown with the amazing staff that is here. I’ve be grateful to be able to grow into the role.”
Casey came up through the Charlottetown minor hockey system and went to Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., for three seasons. He was primarily a point-per-game player during his bantam and midget days.
Casey racking up the points this season isn’t a surprise to one of his former linemates.
“He’s definitely a special player,” said UPEI Panthers’ forward Carson MacKinnon, who played 4 ½ seasons in the QMJHL. “The biggest asset he has is his speed. Ever since I’ve been in the league, he’s arguably been one of the fastest guys.”
MacKinnon and Casey played on a line with Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Jeremy McKenna at the 2015 Canada Games in Prince George, B.C. Casey had 14 points in six games to finish third in tournament scoring behind his linemates. P.E.I. played in a pool with Newfoundland and Labrador, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
“He was so easy to play with because no matter where you put the puck, he’d be the first one on it no matter what,” MacKinnon said. “It’s good to see him off to a good start (this year).”
Isles’ head coach and general manager Jim Hulton said he’s not surprised to see Casey producing offensively as an overage player.
“But if you would have told us four years ago that he was going to be a major offensive contributor I might have questioned it,” he acknowledged.
The bench boss said Casey has continued to improve, is healthy and confident.
“He’s learned to really use his speed as an offensive weapon,” he said. “This kid is really tough to defend when those feet are going.”
Casey switched to a shorter stick this season, going back to something he learned at Andrews Growth Hockey Programs of using the collarbone as the measuring stick of where to cut the butt end of his stick as opposed to the chin.
“I find my control a lot better,” he said. “But a lot of it is just confidence and with age, I think, the game slows down more and more. … When I was 17, it felt like the game was going 100 miles an hour.”
And while Casey is happy to be contributing offensively, it’s not his main focus.
“When you’re a 20-year-old, your main goal … is to get wins. It’s been great to come out of the gate 4-1 and I think everyone in the room is happy with that, but Jim always stresses we can’t get content. We’re trying to work hard every day and it’s been paying off.”
Casey is hopeful they will get to see the season through to a normal conclusion after seeing last year’s veterans robbed of the chance to play in the post-season due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic.
“2020 has been quite the year and the only way to look at it is to go day by day,” he said, noting it is out of their control. “A mantra, I think, for myself is just kind of live in the moment because you never know what tomorrow brings.”
Biography: Thomas Casey
- Who – A 20-year-old hockey player with the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He is from Charlottetown.
- Height, weight, position – Five-foot-nine, 188-pound right-winger.
- Linemates – Casey has played right wing with centre Brett Budgell this season. The left-winger has been either Keiran Gallant or Drew Johnston.
- Acquired – Drafted in the sixth round (106th overall) of the 2016 QMJHL draft.
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 5 4 7 11
The Islanders' Oct. 16 game in Halifax was Casey's 200th game in the QMJHL when combining both regular season and playoff games.
Casey said: “Every night I’d just like to contribute to the team and help the team win because it’s my last kick at the can and I’m looking forward to, hopefully, going on a deep playoff run.”
Islanders’ head coach Jim Hulton said: “I think it’s a good lesson for a lot of young hockey players. You have to find a way to get into the lineup on a nightly basis when you’re young and then continue to develop all the areas of your game and your role will change over the course of three or four seasons and Thomas is the perfect example of it.”
The Islanders host the Moncton Wildcats tonight at 7 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre. Due to COVID-19 restriction, the game is already a sellout.