Loran “Errol” Thompson was born in Summerside, PEI on May 28, 1950 and was raised in nearby St. Eleanors where he became a prodigy in minor hockey, often scoring in double digits in games. He was a member of the Summerside Pee Wees who travelled to Natick, Massachusetts in the International Friendship Series which would continue for several years between the two towns. Errol (first on the bottom left in the photo) proudly wore a Maple Leafs sweater for Summerside which was a sign of things to come in his career just ten years later. Summerside, coached by Syd Forbes and Gordon Kelly, beat the Natick Comets, 5-1 and 2-0. The 11 and 12 year old kids from PEI were treated an NHL game between the Bruins and the Maple Leafs at the old Boston Garden.
A decade later Thompson, the St. Eleanors Streak, made his NHL debut for Toronto facing the Detroit Red Wings in 1970-71. On his very first shift the rookie winger bumped into the great Gordie Howe and exclaimed, “Whoops. Sorry!” Howe just smiled and skated away. On that first shift, Alex Delvecchio, who centered Howe’s line scored for Detroit. Just seconds in and already Errol was a minus one. The young Thompson would join Detroit in a trade about eight years later but by that time Gordie was in the WHA so he didn’t have a chance to play with the superstar.
Thompson was taken by Toronto in second round of the NHL Amateur Draft in 1970 and was the 22nd player selected overall. He would score 126 goals and have 245 points in 365 games for the Leafs after two seasons with the Tulsa Oilers in the Central Hockey League where he had 15 goals in 1970-71 and 21 in 1971-72. That was before joining the Leafs fulltime in 1972-73. He was listed at 5’9” and 185 lbs.
How the young Island player was discovered is a story of legend in PEI.
Errol played three seasons with the Halifax Junior Canadiens, an independent team that won the Maritime Junior Championship 1966, 1967 and 1968 but did not advance too far in the Eastern Canada Memorial Cup playoffs. The team was a Montreal Canadiens affiliate that played one game against the Russian national team. Errol’s teammates included Charlottetown’s Jamie Kennedy and future NHL player Bobby Sheehan. Thompson’s best season was in 1967-68 where he had 41 goals and 81 points in 45 games. His production slipped to 11 goals in 30 games the following season. His playoff output was topped by scoring 15 goals in 17 games in 1966-67 in the Memorial Cup playoffs followed by 6 goals in 11 games in 1967-68. He joined the Canadiens as a sixteen year old but left the team after three years to go to college and work a variety of jobs at age 19.
He joined Sandy Frizzell’s Charlottetown Royals senior hockey team in 1969-70, playing on defense for $15 a game. “I was just playing for fun,” he recalls. “We played only a few games that season.” But he was impressive. The defenseman had 13 goals, 23 assists and 36 points in just 20 games facing rivals in the New Brunswick Senior Hockey League.
That brings us to his discovery by Toronto scout and retired goaltending great Johnny Bower coming to Charlottetown at the invite of local scout Jack “Spy” Ready to have a look see at one of the Royals players that winter. The story goes the player involved was not Thompson. Bower, however, was taken by the lightning-fast Thompson who was a patrolling the blueline. In June, 1970 Errol became a Leaf drafted in the second round behind Darryl Sittler. “I was amazed,” said the Summerside native. “Nobody had even heard of me and I had no idea I’d be drafted. Lady Luck was really riding with me.”
Spy Ready, an outstanding multi-sport amateur athlete and later hockey referee, served as a Maritime Scout for the Maple Leafs from 1957 to 1975 and also had a hand in getting player like Al MacAdam, Rick Vaive, Bobby Stewart, Hilliard Graves, and Bobby MacMillan into the NHL. He served 20 years on Charlottetown City Council including Mayor from 1987-1993. He passed away in 2000 at age 70.
Errol Thompson joined the Tulsa Oilers in the CHL under head coach Marcel Pronovost, who moved him from defense up to a left wing spot. He scored 15 goals that first season in 1970-71. Injuries prevented him from moving up to the big club the following season, but he did wind up with 21 goals in 42 games.
In 1972-73 he made the Leafs in training camp but his ice time was limited with Red Kelly coaching who preferred to go with the veterans on the Leafs. He had 13 goals in his first season and 7 in his second year in 1973-74. His first of six straight 20 plus goal campaigns began with him scoring 25 goals in 65 games in 1974-75.
1975-76 was Errol’s career year. He scored 43 goals which was second most for any Leaf left winger in a single season behind Frank Mahovlich’s 48 in 1960-61. He added 37 assists for 80 points playing on the Hot Line with Sittler and Lanny McDonald. There was of course that huge night in February that season where Errol helped Sittler to his record 10 point night facing Boston at Maple Leaf Gardens. Errol set up two of Sittler’s goals in the third period and also added another assist for three point night. Sittler had six goals and 4 assists in the 11-4 romp over coach Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins.
Errol was known for his speed and his nifty backhand shot which was touted the best in the NHL.
The 1976-77 season was marred by a broken arm which limited Errol to 41 games, but he managed 21 goals and 37 points. He did enjoy a big night against Chicago with a hat trick in a wild 10-8 win over Chicago but a year later he was dealt to Detroit for hard-nosed forward Dan Maloney in what appeared to be a deal that favoured the Red Wings. Toronto dealt away two first round picks and second round pick along with a 40-goal scorer for essentially muscle. Leaf head coach Roger Neilson was critical of Thompson’s offense-minded play so the thus the deal transpired. The trade came in March, 1978. The Leafs made the semi-finals but swept by the Canadiens. It easily could have been one of the worst trades ever except the two first round picks to the Wings didn’t pan out. Errol finished the season in Detroit with 22 goals and 45 points. He would score 23 goals and 34 in each of the next two years in the Motor City and was named captain of the Wings in 1980-81.
But again, Errol fell in disfavour with the coach, Wayne Maxner because of his offense-first mentality and was dealt again in January to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Gary McAdam.
That July, Errol Thompson announced his retirement despite having two years left on a contract worth over $100,000. Pro hockey had lost its glamour and at age 31 he stepped away from the game to be with his growing family on PEI and to seek new career opportunities. At the time of his retirement he was first among Prince Edward Island players with 208 career goals. His scoring percentage was over 3 goals for every three games in the 599 games he skated and that ranked him ahead of other stars like Andy Bathgate and Dave Keon.
When it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs, he played in the postseason four straight years with the Leafs and in his first season with Detroit. The ’75-76 Maple Leafs got by Pittsburgh a three-game first round set but lost the next series to Philadelphia, 4-3 in a best of seven. The Flyers went on to the Stanley Cup finals where they were swept by Montreal. Errol produced three goals and three assists in ten playoff games.
An effortless skater, he moved on to work for the local Coca Cola bottling plant in Charlottetown and then Labatt Breweries. He was inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame in May, 1983.
The story doesn’t end there. Errol would continue to take part in benefit games with NHL alumni around the Atlantic region and joined forces with old Halifax Jr. Canadians teammate Jamie Kennedy to coach the Charlottetown Islanders to their second Hardy Cup championship as Canadian Intermediate championship in 1983-84 over the Moose Jaw Generals in a feisty final five game series at the Charlottetown Forum.
Errol was chosen 73rd on the Leafs Top 100 player list during the franchise’s centennial season in 2017-18. He joined Rick Vaive and Dion Phaneuf on the list as the three players with PEI connections to make it.
In 599 NHL games he had 208 goals, 185 assists for 393 points and just 184 minutes in penalties. His totals included 102 power play goals, 6 shorthanded goals and 27 game winners. He had 1,355 shots on net and a 15.4% scoring average.
A park was named in his honour in Summerside in September, 2022. The site is located on MacWilliams Drive in the community of St. Eleanors which was formerly called Fairview Park.
Errol Thompson has always been a classy individual and a team player but most of all a gentleman who treated everyone equally. #12 was one of the best and steadiest players in the NHL in the 1970s.