A six-foot, 200-pound senior from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, forward Matt Thomey ’08 is polite and soft-spoken and was, until recently, also completely unheralded.
He won’t be the one to tell you, but Thomey has quickly become a key piece of the men’s hockey team’s offensive attack. In the past three games, he has accounted for four goals and two assists, equaling the combined totals of his first three college seasons. That explosion drew the attention of league officials, who named him ECAC Player of the Week last week for his three goals and one assist in Yale’s pivotal three-point road weekend at Colgate and Cornell in late January.
It’s a far cry from Thomey’s old role on the team — as a spare defensive-minded fourth-line checker.
“When you’re playing on the third and fourth lines through the beginning of your career, I mean, I know as well, it’s not always the best situation for your confidence,” captain Will Engasser ’08 said. “But now he’s playing loose and he’s scoring.”
Thomey has also become a fixture on Yale’s power play, tying Sean Backman ’10 with a team-high three goals with the man-advantage. With a quick, accurate left-handed release, Thomey spends most of his power-play minutes looping around from the corner to the top of the circle along the right wing, waiting for a one-time pass.
“Offensively, his shot’s one of the best on the team, and coach has really found a way to feature his shot on the power play by putting him in a position to pull the trigger in the slot,” said Engasser, Thomey’s linemate on the No. 2 power-play unit.
Head coach Keith Allain ’80 added that Thomey’s instincts and understanding of the power-play scheme help make him effective in that role.
“He’s a player that I think has really good hockey sense,” Allain said. “He thinks team concepts and we need guys like that on the power play.”
The Yale power play has caught fire in the last three games, converting four of 11 opportunities, and Thomey had a hand in three of those goals.
At even strength, Thomey has moved to center and has been teamed with a pair of freshmen who have gelled nicely with the veteran.
“He’s found a good combination of guys to play with,” Engasser said. “Denny Kearney [’11] and Broc Little [’11] do a great job of playing to his strengths. He’s got a great shot. Kearney’s really good at protecting the puck, and Broc’s quick and they do a great job getting him the puck.”
A year ago, in a disappointing season ending with losses in 10 of the team’s final 13 games, Yale relied heavily on the freshman line of Backman, Mark Arcobello ’10 and Chris Cahill ’10 to produce 46.2 percent of its goals. This year, Backman, Arcobello and new linemate Engasser have been just as productive, but their 21 goals account for just 32.8 percent of Yale’s 64, thanks in large part to supplements from the Thomey line.
Thomey’s emergence, which has sparked a three-game unbeaten streak, gives the sixth-place Bulldogs another viable scoring threat, and with it, reason to believe that an ECAC first-round playoff bye is not out of the question.
“[Getting scoring from multiple sources] is any team’s goal going into the season,” Thomey said. “The teams that win the league are the teams that get scoring from all four lines. That’s a problem we’ve had in the past. This year so far it’s been going pretty well.”
Preparing for road games against Quinnipiac and Princeton — which have combined to beat Yale 13-5 in three games at Ingalls Rink this season — Allain sees this diversity of scoring as a possible difference between this weekend’s matchups and his team’s prior meetings with the two teams tied for nearby third place in the standings.
“It’s vitally important, especially when you play on the road, because on the road the other team has the last line change,” he said. “They’ll put their best defensive line out against our top unit. So if you’re not getting other people contributing on the scoreboard, it’s hard to get enough offense to win.”