CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Thomas Casey was a skilled hockey player used to providing offence for his teams growing up.
However, he has found a different role as a high-energy guy who brings speed to the Charlottetown Islanders fourth line this season. He blocks shot and plays shorthanded.
“Penalty killing is kind of a fun thing now that I’m doing it,” he said after Wednesday’s practice.
The 17-year-old forward has found himself playing against some of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s top talent this season. He has used his speed to hem opposing team’s top-end defencemen in their own zone and make them restart their breakout.
“Watching them kind of get frustrated makes you smile,” Casey said.
He’s still enjoys getting a chance to snipe.
“The offensive chances come over time, and that’s something I noticed when I first got into the league,” Casey said. “You just have to be patient as a younger guy.”
He doesn’t have far to look for a role model as assistant captain Keith Getson broke into the league on a fourth line and killing penalties. Now he’s on the squad’s top line.
“Watching Getsy and knowing when he was 16, 17 he wasn't in as much of an offensive role, but he relished being a shutdown guy,” Casey said.
Casey scored 22 goals and had 41 points in his first bantam season with the Charlottetown Abbies. He went to Wilcox, Sask., to play for the Notre Dame in his Grade 9 season and spend three years with the Hounds.
“I kind of grew up, my major teen years, out there. It helped me develop as a person, more so than as a hockey player,” Casey said. “It was an eye-opening experience and it’s something I will carry (with me) for the rest of my life.”
Casey said he was lucky to have other Islanders, including Jeremy McKenna, Carson MacKinnon and Carson McManaman, at Notre Dame when he arrived. He said they helped make the transition easier.
He joined them on Team P.E.I. at the 2015 Canada Games in Prince George, B.C., and played on a line with McKenna and MacKinnon.
“They’re unbelievable players, so that helped me a lot in my hockey development,” Casey said. “We had a really skilled team. We came up short trying to get into the higher rounds, but we worked hard as well and our motto was Island pride and we really stuck to that.”
While at Notre Dame, Casey and his teammates were exposed to the college route as well as major junior, but the Charlottetown native had long looked to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“Growing up I was always at the Rocket games,” he said. “I knew when I was younger I wanted to play in the league.”
The Islanders scouting staff had identified him during his minor hockey career and the franchise selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft at the Eastlink Centre. Casey was in Saskatchewan at the time, but he remembers receiving the call from head coach and general manager Jim Hulton.
“I was beyond thrilled.”
Casey attended the 2016 training camp before going back to Notre Dame. He worked hard in the offseason and made the team this summer.
“The one constant we heard about him was how quick he was and how good his feet (were),” Hulton said.
His speed is his No. 1 asset and his game continues to progress.
“He’s provided us a ton of energy,” Hulton said. “He’s improved immensely in his play away from the puck and, not coincidently, he’s starting to get some more looks offensively.”
At five-foot-nine, 180 pounds, Casey might have been passed over by talent evaluators years ago.
“A guy like him probably couldn't have played 15-20 years ago due to a lack of size, but the game has switched so much with an emphasis on foot speed first and foremost,” Hulton explained. “In today’s game, tenacious and relentless, I think, are the two key words and when (his) line is on that’s what they’re doing.”
Need to know
Who – A rookie forward with the Charlottetown Islanders.
Hometown – Charlottetown.
Age – 17.
Size – Five-foot-nine, 180 pounds.
Position – Casey started the season as a winger but has played more recently as a centre, where head coach Jim Hulton said he thinks his speed is more of an asset.
Casey said: “It’s been real fun. The guys on this team make it easy to make the adjustment to the major junior setting.”
Hulton said: “We’ve been really happy with Thomas. . . He’s really progressing terrifically for us.”
Season League Team GP G A Pts.
2013-14 Bantam AAA Charlottetown 28 22 19 41
2014-15 Bantam AAA Notre Dame 35 15 20 35
2015-16 Midget AAA Notre Dame 44 12 12 24
2016-17 Midget AAA Notre Dame 29 14 16 30
2017-18 Major junior Charlottetown 41 5 2 7
Source – http://www.eliteprospects.com
Did you know? Three of Casey’s five goals this season have come against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.