Former CHLers typically see the Canadian University route as a life decision, not a hockey decision – representing a good first step on the post-hockey path for those who have aged out of their eligibility.
The appeal is bittersweet, really. While getting a degree and maybe winning one last championship is intriguing, preparing to face the unfortunate reality that the NHL dream is not meant to be can be difficult to swallow.
Logan Thompson appeared to have reached that dreaded destination not too long ago.
In the summer of 2017, Thompson found himself at hockey's dreaded crossroads – his four-year career with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings had just come to an end and a trek out into the unknown landscape of free agency was coming up on the horizon. Thompson had no home. His prospects looked bleak. He'd never posted a save percentage above .908 in the WHL, or even during his time in the AJHL, in fact, and had just passed through three straight NHL drafts unselected.
With few options at his disposal, Thompson committed to Brock University that fall, taking the first step into life outside of the only game he'd ever known.
Needless to say, he didn't stray very far.
Five years later and Thompson is a starting goalie in the NHL. Not just any run-of-the-mill starter, either. Thompson is a star – a bonafide rookie-of-the-year candidate currently in the process of helping the Vegas Golden Knights to their best start in franchise history courtesy of his 8-2-0 record, two shutouts, and .925 save percentage.
Entering the year fighting for playing time in a tandem with Adin Hill, Thompson has since grabbed the starting job and run with it, solidifying the Golden Knights' crease for himself while perhaps giving Vegas a new franchise goalie while their former one, Robin Lehner, recovers from season-ending surgery.
Thompson is a modern hockey success story – one of the rare examples of a player who managed to resurrect his odds of playing professional hockey for a living when it never looked possible.
The importance of that is not lost on his teammates, either.
"To make it to the NHL at all is impressive, but to perform like he is right now is something else entirely," said Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault, who himself rose to the NHL out of relative obscurity.
"I think he's put in the work. That's the biggest thing. Anyone who looked at our team this year saw that there were uncertainties in the goaltender's spot. But he came in, did the work, and it's paying off."
That work began long before Thompson ever set foot in the NHL. It propelled him up from the AJHL to the WHL and right through the Canadian collegiate ranks at Brock. Hard work is what led Thompson to emerge as an ECHL standout after his career looked all but over and helped him eventually dominate the AHL en route to an NHL contract.
It's been a long and gruelling path to where Thompson stands today. But the fruits of his labor came to a head most noticeably near the end of last season, when injuries to Lehner and Laurent Brossoit thrust Thompson into the starter's role at the same time the Golden Knights were clawing their way through a last-ditch playoff race.
The Golden Knights ultimately failed to make the playoffs when all was said and done, missing out on the festivities for the first time in franchise history. But that wasn't because of Thompson, though. Not in the slightest.
"He's definitely not the reason we missed the playoffs last year," laughed Vegas captain Mark Stone.
"He was amazing. He did everything we could've asked for."
"As a young guy, that's a tough position to be thrown into, especially that time of year," added Alec Martinez.
"But he handled it really well and gave us a chance every night. And that's carried over."
Thompson appeared in 17 games down the final stretch of last season. In a desperate final push to save the Golden Knights' disastrous season, Thompson put up a 10-5-3 record and a .914 save percentage during the most pressure-packed stretch of his career while stopping 3.9 goals above average. That number has now nearly doubled to six through a mere 10 starts this season, as Thompson has established himself as arguably the hottest goalie in the league.
For a guy with one foot out of hockey's door five years ago, that's not too shabby.
"I think he's embraced this opportunity that he's had," explained Martinez of his young netminder.
He's just played unbelievably for us. We got all the confidence in the world in all of our goalies, but Logan has really proven himself."
If Thompson keeps this up, Vegas could be sitting pretty in net for quite some time.