AURORA, Ontario — Like many sports leagues across Canada and the United States, the Ontario Junior Hockey League was not immune to the COVID-19 pandemic. The league was shut down during the pandemic, affecting each of its teams, including the Aurora Tigers.
Since 1997, the Aurora Tigers have been a part of the OJHL family — the franchise’s second go-around in the league after a stint between 1972 and 1987 — but have recently been in excellent hands with former NHLer Jim Thomson.
Thomson, along with his wife Rita, became the club’s owners in 2015. With the new role, the former enforcer brought with him a wealth of NHL experience. This, in part, has helped Thomson prepare his players for a career in hockey on the ice but also life as quality human beings off the ice.
“My wife and I run the hockey team and being a former NHL player, I like to put my input, but I let [the GM and coaches] do their jobs,” Thomson said. “My thing is, though, to make sure we pick a good team with good characters for the town of Aurora. We don’t want bad apples, if you will, playing on our hockey team. We need to pick the right characters. There have been some situations where we had to intervene, and help kids out who have had issues but my role is to make sure that our brand is professional and that’s basically it.”
While being a former NHLer is certainly an impressive accolade in itself, it was Thomson’s post-playing career that has helped shape him into who he is today.
After he hung up his skates, Thomson fell into drug and alcohol addiction. Yet, while this was undoubtedly a dark time in his life, it was how Thomson overcame these battles that has helped him become a quality role model.
“Some of the factors were that when you’re done [playing] hockey, it’s the depression that your life has changed immensely and it’s like you’re killing the fear of real-life, numbing the pain that the dream is over,” Thomson noted. “So, what happens is you just spiral into this black hole of– it’s almost like you give up to the world. It’s like, ‘Okay, I’m done. My career’s over,’ so, you start blacking out, doing drugs and it’s just a vicious, vicious unraveling of your life and pretty soon, you’re so far ahead. Then, you’re basically asking yourself, ‘Can you get out of it or are you ending it?’”
“I was actually flying home from Edmonton, my hometown,” Thomson began. “So, [13 years ago], on my son’s birthday, which is November 17, and it was a peaceful moment where I quietly said I was done. You never know, though, because when you’re an addict, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, you always say, ‘I’m done, I’m done, I’m done,’ and you end up using again a few days later, the next day, whatever. So, this was a different moment where, November 17, I got home and just quietly went about my business and [13 years ago], I took my last drink and my last drug.”
Following his addiction battle, Thomson was committed to helping others. In part, he became a motivational speaker, speaking to audiences, young and old, across Canada and the United States. He also runs his own organization, Jim Thomson’s Dreams, to emphasize that dreams do come true.
“Well, it’s like this: I’m not afraid to tell my story,” Thomson, now 55, emphasized. “Number one: I talk about the drug abuse, the alcoholism, the pills — I was big-time into opioids — and I believe that the more you talk about it and somebody’s suffering from the addiction, it really helps them because they relate to you.
“You can go to a doctor and have Mom, Dad and whoever tell you, ‘Don’t do that. It’s no good for you,’ but I really believe my impact on a lot of people by sharing my story helps them in their recovery because they looked at me and I saved my life; and if they’re into that lifestyle, they need to save their own life.”
While the 2021-22 season is a new lease on life for teams across North America, the Aurora Tigers are especially determined to make good on their return to the ice, especially with Jim Thomson helping to lead the charge. From his experiences on and off the ice, you can be sure that the Tigers’ young corps are in very good hands with the former NHLer.
With five games into the new season, Aurora is off to a respectable 3-2-0 start. Stay tuned for more, though, as the campaign continues.
Fans can visit Jim Thomson’s website at www.jimthomsonsdreams.com for more information on the former Kings’ work.
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