Sunday, October 25, 2009

WHL: Profile: Silvertips Goalie Thomas Heemskerk

                                                      (Photo: Frank Deines III/Everett Silvertips)

He's been a stalwart goaltender for theEverett Silvertips since they acquired him from the Kootenay Ice in December 2008. Spend time chatting with Thomas Heemskerk, though, and you'll notice that he's about as laid back in person as he is intense in net, and pretty mature for someone who doesn't turn 20 until April.

But get to know a little about Thomas, and you'll start to piece together what makes this young man tick. For one, he doesn't have a hockey background. He also had a bit of trouble skating when he was younger. But when a skating instructor stuck him in net out of frustration, not only did Thomas take it in stride, he found he actually liked it. What's more, he became quite GOOD at it.

He honed his talent with a couple of strong seasons for the Silvertips; and that talent was recognized by the 
San Jose Sharks, who invited Thomas to training camp over the summer. They were so impressed with his workouts and preseason play (he registered 2 wins against the Anaheim Ducks), they signed him to an entry-level contract.

Since returning to Everett, Thomas has helpd the 'Tips win two games (against the
Vancouver Giants) and lost one (against the Portland Winterhawks). Read on to learn more about his amazing summer, what he learned from San Jose Sharksgoaltender Evgeni Nabokov, his introduction to hockey, and the lessons he's learning from new Head Coach Craig Hartsburg, on and off the ice.

KING 5: How did the invitation from the Sharks come about?
TH: I was training and had contact with my agent all summer. We were kind of hoping on something and he kept saying to hang in there and wait and finally it did come.

KING 5: What did you think when you learned you were being invited down to San Jose?
TH: I was so excited. I didn't have any expectations; just to go there and see what it's like, more than anything - just to compare myself.

KING 5: When you got down there, what was the first thing you noticed about being at an NHL camp?
TH: The amount of employees there were. I was trying to learn everybody's name. Everybody was real nice an introduced themselves but it was hard to remember all the names.

KING 5: What do you think was the biggest success of your time at camp?
TH: I think, throughout, I just tried to work as hard as I could all the time, show them my work ethic and it seemed to really come in during the games. They went better than I probably could have hoped.

KING 5: How has spending this time at camp with so many quality guys helped you prepare for your season here in Everett?
TH: For sure, it's helped a lot. It was kind of nice going (to San Jose) and being the young one again and looking up towards the older guys and realizing just how much you do look up to them. I'm trying to take that back with me now and make sure that I do the same (for our younger guys) this year.

KING 5: Did you spend a lot of time with (San Jose goaltender) Evgeni Nabokov?
TH: We had a little bit of time together, stretching. For main camp, we were actually on the same team so we played together and we stretched together. We got to talk quite a bit. It was really nice.

KING 5: Did he offer you any good advice?
TH: We kind of kept it light - not so much about hockey. He's a pretty funny guy. He doesn't take it too seriously but still works hard. It was good to see how much fun he still has.

KING 5: Going back to your younger days, how did you decide you wanted to become a goalie?
TH: Nobody in my family played hockey or really skated. My parents own a flower nursery and one of the workers played hockey. I think that's kind of how I got into it. From there, it snowballed. He took me out skating and I went for skating lessons. That didn't go so well. I had a problem with being pigeon toed when I was younger and the skating instructor started to put me in net because he was getting a little frustrated that I was always at the back of the line and I couldn't do anything. It kind of just stuck from there on.

KING 5: When did you decide you really enjoyed it and that's what you wanted to do- and pursue it?
TH: I always liked it when I was young. During minor hockey, you got to switch in and out and I always wanted to be in the net, so it really started pretty young, from the start, I'd say.

KING 5: How old were you when you first started skating?
TH: I think I must have been 7 when I started skating and 8 when I first started playing hockey.

KING 5: Where did you play your bantams?
TH: I played Bantam in Chilliwack.

KING 5: Who were your favorite players growing up?
TH: Growing up, nobody really in my family watched a lot of hockey but I always liked Patrick Roy. I had every Don Cherry movie and I would memorize all the words. I actually just liked watching everyone. I didn't really have a favorite team. I just loved watching everything.

KING 5: Is there anybody that you particularly follow or look up to now?
TH: I like the way (Marc-Andre) Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins) and (Cam) Ward(Carolina Hurricanes) play because I kind of like to think that they went the same way, especially Ward, who played in the WHL. I like the way he plays, too. (NOTE: Cam Ward played junior hockey with the Red Deer Rebels/WHL between 2000-2004)

KING 5: How would you describe your style?
TH: I like to think that technically, I'm pretty sound but I can definitely come out of the box and make some strange saves once in a while; definitely in practice and now I can kind of see it following into games. I wouldn't say it's completely butterfly. I like to make some different kinds of saves once in a while. This summer and last summer too, I worked with goalie coaches and I found that it wasn't just learning technique anymore. It was visual contact, reading shots and once I got the hang of it, some of the saves you make seem really easy. It's hard to explain but you don't even think about what you're doing and that's why sometimes it's not the perfect technique but you just stop it.

KING 5: It seems like once you get in tune to it, it's almost like a reflex.
TH: Yeah, you kind of forget everything you've learned and hope that it just comes naturally during the game, hope that you're making the reads right and save selection is close.

KING 5: What "away" arena do you enjoy playing at?
TH: I like going back to Moose Jaw. I know a lot of people don't like it, but it's kind of neat playing in such an old arena. It's a different feeling, for sure.
KING 5: Is that the place they call The Barn?
TH: Yes, that's The Barn, with the roof that dips down into the ice. It's pretty unique.

KING 5: Who's your favorite opponent? Who do you think you play your best against?
TH: I think I've done pretty well against Vancouver for the past year and a half. When I get a lot of shots, I enjoy that. I enjoy having busy nights. I kind of rise up to (the occasion) when there's a lot of shots.

KING 5: Do you have a pre-game ritual/meal?
TH: I always eat spaghetti before, nap for two hours, eat and then come to the rink the same time. I kind of stick to the same routine, tape my stick, stuff like that. I like to be early and take it easy and slow and work into it; get ready for the game mentally then warm up physically and then have warm ups. I don't think it's too strange.

KING 5: I've heard that some people have some pretty strange things that they have to do.
TH: I try not to let it get too crazy but sometimes I find myself trying to remember what I did ten days ago when we won, so (laughs). It's a mental thing.

KING 5: What kind of music do you listen to, to help you get pumped up for a game?
TH: I like the newer stuff. I don't put my iPod on the stereo. Usually, other players deal with that, as long as it's something upbeat. Sometimes, some guys in the room want to play some country but that doesn't do it for me before games.

KING 5: You've been with Everett for a year and a half. What do you like best about being a part of this organization?
TH: Every day I come and look forward to it. Even practice is a good time; it's a good atmosphere here. And when it comes to games it's just next to none. The fans are just incredible. The way everything's run, so smooth, you have no excuse but to play the best that you can.

KING 5: How is it adjusting to Coach Hartsburg and a new coaching style?
TH: It's been different, very high-paced. He doesn't back down to anything. He's not afraid to speak the truth, which I think is a good thing for this team. It's a lot different from last year and it's going to pay off. The guys are starting to see that he definitely knows what he's doing; from practice to days off. Everyone should appreciate where he's been and how much he's been through. He's coached the best players in the world and he even played against them.

KING 5: Do you think he's helped you guys become more focused as a team?
TH: Yes. He definitely wants us to be more professional. Even though some guys are 16, everyone's gotta act professional. If a 16 year old's gotta act 20, then that's what it's got to take. Everyone enjoys it, but to be treated professionally, you've gotta act it. That's what he's definitely trying to get across to us.

After I interviewed Thomas, I found an article in the 
Chilliwack Progressnewspaper that really opened my eyes to just how hard he has worked to make it in the WHL, much less secure an NHL tryout and contract. Reporter Eric Welshcaught up with Thomas as he worked out in his hometown, waiting for a camp invitation and our easygoing goalie opened up about the frustrations he faced with his first WHL team, the Kootenay Ice, the bold move he made to try to keep his career from bombing, and the hopes he has for this season with Everett. To read the article, click here.

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