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Syracuse star forward Sarah Thompson an exceptional role model

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Constantly geared towards improvement, whether as a player or person, an exceptional element of Sarah Thompson’s work ethic involves betterment beyond individual goals. Finding tremendous reward in the facets of mentoring and giving back, as evidenced by her efforts with Sticks Together, the promise of helping others reaching greater potential represents a rewarding raison d’etre.

Raised in Canada’s Capital Region, this autumn shall mark Thompson’s senior season for the Syracuse Orange. Majoring in sport management at the university’s David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, she is a well-spoken and empathic individual whose interests are highlighted by volunteering. Trips to Argentina and South Africa as part of Sticks Together exemplify such a highly inspiring dedication.

Adding to her sporting footprint in Syracuse is an internship with the Crunch franchise of the American Hockey League (AHL). Pondering the future beyond competition, Thompson aspires for a career in another aspect of the game. Having strengthened her standing as an inspiring student athlete in the community with her nomination for the 2023 Hockey Humanitarian Award, she also found a highly positive influence in Jackie Decker, who served as the franchise’s Community Relations Manager before making the jump to the NHL. Among Decker’s highlights with the Crunch included a Women In Sports Panel on March 31, 2023, featuring AHL Vice-President Hayley Moore.

“Definitely, a goal of mine is working for a hockey team in the NHL. Working with Jim on the Crunch is a great experience in preparing for such a job and it is pretty cool to have on your resume. I have met so many great people. One lady from the organization, Jackie, is now working with the Islanders in community events. To see her in the NHL is amazing.”

Remaining occupied in the offseason with the Thompson High Performance Program, the opportunity to share her acumen with a group of local players provides a strong element of enjoyment, while giving back to the community. Her ability to excel as an on-ice instructor mirrors the admirable profession of her mom, who has spent the last 25 years employed as an educator.

Hosting a handful of talented players from various clubs from the Capital Region, including the Ottawa Jr 67s and the Nepean Wildcats, a team Thompson starred for during her teens, she is joined on the ice by other local instructors that have graced the ice at the NCAA level. Finding tremendous motivation in the players drive and determination, eager to satisfy their university aspirations, a satisfying accomplishment encompasses her sentiments.

“I am really impressed by their ambition and skill. They are really eager to learn and excited to learn. Helping them makes me really happy.”

Among the highlights of this summer’s High Performance Program, early August saw the highly accomplished Lindsay Eastwood appear as a guest speaker. Akin to Thompson, both share many unique linkages. From the outset, Thompson and Eastwood not only played for Canada’s Under-18 National Team, both honed their skills with the Nepean Wildcats. Additionally, both are among an impressive number of star players from Canada’s Capital Region that have worn the paraphernalia of the Syracuse Orange, with Eastwood, coincidentally, having also enjoyed an internship with the Crunch.

Having won the Isobel Cup earlier this year, Eastwood, a charter member of the Toronto Six, enjoyed several days in August with the prized trophy. Graciously bringing the Cup to the High Performance Program, Eastwood shared her playing experiences. From discussing the recruitment process to coping with injuries, along with the opportunities after university, optimistic about the game’s growth, the overall tone was one of encouragement.

“Obviously, there is a lot I can speak to in terms of the college process. It was important to have Lindsay here. I remember going to Syracuse when I was 15, and I was so nervous. She ran into me and was like, ‘Hey, aren’t you from Ottawa?’ By then, I was committed. Hopefully, I can have the same impact on these girls.”

Impact also represents one of Thompson’s most profound efforts in the game. Sticks Together has evolved from a project into an activity that has positively changed lives. With a highly commendable goal of making sport accessible for children, regardless of their social and/or economic status, Thompson’s humanitarian efforts embody the essence of teamwork.

“I always wanted to volunteer. I was looking for ways to do that which would have the most impact, while hoping to include hockey. Teaching is what I am best at and how to teach people who do not have resources, I travelled for hockey.”

Journeys in 2022 and 2023 saw Thompson realize the goal of Sticks Together, introducing the game to communities south of the equator. With her first trip taking place in May 2022, she enjoyed the company of a familiar face. Joined by Tracey Edson, a member of the Orange’s hockey media group, along with a trio of interpreters from the IVHQ (International Volunteer HQ) Sport Development program, the group visited youth in Recoleta, a neighborhood found in the northern part of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Fast forward to 2023, the next chapter of Sticks Together saw Thompson in Muizenberg, found in the Southern suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. With the support of CARHA Hockey and Play It Again Sports from Orleans, ON, a life changing experience saw Thompson provide instruction to hundreds of children from Steenberg Primary School, many enthusiastic to learn the game. Joined by Syracuse teammate Madison Primeau, a member of the 2022 CHA All-Rookie Team, and second generation player whose father Wayne played in the National Hockey League, their collaborative efforts provided the program with another proud highlight.

With the topography of the Great Escarpment in the background, the view added to the atmosphere, one which saw Thompson and Primeau provide their students with donated hockey sticks and T-shirts, benefitting from the encouragement of the IVHQ Sport Development Program. Also enjoying the opportunity to grace The Ice Station, the only indoor rink in the Western Cape, alongside a handful of members from the national team, Thompson was impressed by the collective goal to make the game relevant. Worth noting, Cape Town also served as host city for the IIHF, Division II, Group B Women’s Worlds, which saw Belgium earn the gold medal.

In addition to hockey, Thompson enjoyed the opportunity to engage in several activities popular in the area. From the unique wildlife, highlighted by seeing an elephant up close, surfing along the coastline and engaging in bungee jumping off Bloukrans Bridge, considered the world’s highest bridge jump.

While the humanitarian trips to Argentina and South Africa represented two highly rewarding personal milestones, the second trip provided Thompson with more perspective, able to appreciate the objective even more. refining her approach. The end result saw a group of students that made the heartwarming request of wanting her to stay on as coach if they could form a club team.

“It was two completely different experiences. Having done it already, the first time, I faced more adversity. There was a language barrier and I had to take public transit to the arena.

South Africa went so smoothly and I really embraced it. I played every day and there was even a full 5-on-5 game. I also skated with some players on the national team and it was pretty cool. They are working hard to grow the game there.”

Through such remarkable efforts via Sticks Together, Thompson gained honored standing with a place among the esteemed nominees for the 2023 edition of the Hockey Humanitarian Award. Joined by Hannah Price, a junior for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers, they were the only women’s ice hockey players from New York State to enjoy nomination. Although the revelation of the milestone involved the element of surprise, a humbled yet honored Thompson found the greatest reward to be held in the same esteem as the other nominees, whose own stories provided inspiration.

“While I was in class, one of my friends texted me and I had no idea what for. I did not yet know that I was nominated. I saw some of the other nominees online and they volunteered hundreds of hours. Being part of that list was very special and it was really awesome to see the efforts of student athletes in the community.”

Fostering a sense of community and amicable support in all her endeavors, it reflects the type of culture that made an impression on Thompson throughout her time at Syracuse. Finding a combination of motivation and fulfillment from the enthusiasm which defines the Syracuse fanbase, it was only fitting that Thompson’s greatest goal took place on home ice at Tennity Ice Pavilion.

During the Orange playoff run of Thompson’s sophomore season, February 26, 2022 stands as an historic date in program lore. Hosting the Mercyhurst Lakers in the CHA postseason championship game, the Orange were hoping to reverse a losing trend. Having lost to the Lakers in four previous championship game appearances (2010, 2011, 2013, 2016). their only playoff win against them took place in the 2019 semifinals.

After the Orange jumped out to a 2-0 advantage, the Lakers shocked the supporters at Tennity, bouncing back to tie the game at 2-apiece with Alexa Vasko’s goal in the third period. With overtime required to decide the winner, goaltender Arielle DeSmet recorded six saves in the extra frame. Breaking the deadlock at the 7:32 mark in overtime, with the assist credited to Jessica DiGirolamo, Thompson’s goal allowed Syracuse the opportunity to make history twice. Not only was it the first CHA title won on home ice, it marked the first time that the Orange captured the regular season and postseason titles, placing Thompson in the pantheon of hockey heroines.

“My favorite memory was winning the CHA Tournament, it was just exciting. It made it that much more rewarding to win it in overtime. The best feeling in the world.

It was a tough season for me. I only had four points all season. It was my worst scoring drought and I lacked a lot of confidence. Scoring that goal was really special. My teammates were awesome about it and it made me feel good. Every single day you see the support of the athletic community. Everyone is really amazing.” 

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

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