'You want what's best for him:' How Tage Thompson's wife helped fuel his Sabres emergence – Buffalo News

Tage and Rachel Thompson beamed while admiring their 3-month-old son, Brooks, then began to laugh as they took turns describing the joy of watching their baby boy gradually reveal more of his personality.
“Every day, we wonder, ‘Who’s he more like?” Rachel started. “And it changes every day. Some days he’s more like you, some days he’s more like me.”
“He makes some faces that look like her, big time,” Tage continued. “It’s little facial expressions. A smile or a laugh.”
Sitting on a couch in their living room, the Thompsons were in the throes of moving to another home on the Buffalo waterfront. Boxes were packed. Tage used the afternoon off following a Sabres training camp practice to begin executing Rachel’s vision for Brooks’ first bedroom. Furniture was assembled. Décor was prepared to be hung in the new space.
Tage Thompson with wife, Rachel, and son, Brooks. 
Finally, four-plus years after Tage’s arrival in a blockbuster trade with the St. Louis Blues, he and Rachel can begin to plot their future in Buffalo.
Rachel quipped with a laugh, “We can start to imagine what our lives will look like with one more baby.”
Tage, 24, received a seven-year, $50 million contract extension last month that has him under contract with the Sabres through 2029-30. He’s a cornerstone player for the franchise after a tumultuous start in Western New York.
The couple doesn’t have to rent a home each season. They are entrenched in the city where they have grown together and endured what Rachel described as “the lowest points in our lives.”
On the ice, Tage played through the pressure of a trade that, 11 months after it was completed, helped St. Louis win the Stanley Cup. He wound up in Rochester during a difficult first season with Buffalo, endured a painful shoulder injury that limited him to one NHL game in 2019-20 and fell from first line to taxi squad under former coach Ralph Krueger.
Away from hockey, Rachel underwent surgery nearly four years ago to remove a mass above her right knee and prevent cancer from spreading.
With each milestone and misfortune, they have been by each other’s side. Last season, Rachel watched Tage author a breakout, 38-goal season while playing center in the NHL for the first time. He strives for more, particularly for a Sabres franchise that’s amid an 11-year playoff drought, and though there will be more challenges, he’s empowered by the support of Rachel, who’s been there through the triumphs and tumult since they met on his 19th birthday.
“I feel like we know each other better than anybody else, having gone through all the highs and lows and being there to support each other,” Rachel added while cradling Brooks.
Buffalo Sabres center Tage Thompson prepares to take a faceoff against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at the KeyBank Center on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Gaining perspective
Tage was working to establish himself as a full-time NHL player with the Sabres when, on Jan. 28, 2019, he received a call from Rachel while out to dinner with teammates in Columbus, Ohio.
Tage quickly excused himself. He and Rachel were awaiting results from a biopsy taken a few weeks prior. Rachel experienced pain in her right leg that she thought was the reaggravation of an injury from her time on the dance team at the University of Connecticut.
An MRI showed a mass, but doctors were optimistic it was benign. The biopsy revealed the true diagnosis and Rachel had to share the news over the phone: chondrosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. She was scheduled for surgery in Connecticut the next day. A recent graduate of UConn, her impending move to Buffalo had to wait.
“It was obviously a terrible, terrible thing to hear,” Tage said. “Then I had to go back and sit down and eat dinner with the entire team. It was all I could think about that night, the next game and for a while. That’s all I was thinking about. So, it distracts you, but it’s obviously what’s most important.”
Back in Columbus, Tage scored a goal against the Blue Jackets the following night, his seventh in a Sabres uniform.
Following Rachel’s successful surgery, every bone scan has come back cancer-free. Further monitoring won’t be necessary if her next scan in the summer of 2023 is clean.
With help from her parents, Rachel moved to Buffalo in February 2019. She was on crutches for several weeks while the couple lived on the top floor of their three-story apartment building in Williamsville. The transition was difficult for Rachel. Tage was there when the Sabres were in town, but she didn’t immediately have a support system while he was away. He tried to brighten her spirits and provide comfort with his Valentine’s Day gift: a 3-month-old yellow lab puppy named Buff.
Buffalo Sabres player Tage Thompson during the first day of training camp at the KeyBank Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. 
Teammates’ wives and girlfriends insisted on helping Rachel when her family returned to Connecticut. They ran errands for her and took Buff on walks.
“Coming out here was kind of scary because you’re going through this big, emotional, physical thing in your early 20s,” she recalled as Buff walked around, carrying a toy in his mouth. “When my parents left, who do I have here? When the team is on the road, it was kind of scary. … But the girls here were all super helpful and a huge support during that whole recovery time, for sure.”
A developing player on a team burdened by high expectations and defensive deficiencies, Thompson was assigned to Rochester in late March 2019. The move was a difficult blow following a 23-game stretch in which he had no goals and one assist.
But he was accustomed to the business of hockey. His father, Brent, played for three NHL teams and seven American or International Hockey League clubs prior to a coaching career that’s included stops in Peoria, Ill., Anchorage, Alaska, Long Island, and Bridgeport, Conn.
Tage went to nine schools by his junior year of high school. He left home as a teenager to play at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Plymouth, Mich. But the unpredictability of the hockey life was new to Rachel. And this latest move came at a difficult time for both.
Tage was determined to shield Rachel from frustrations he had with his career. When at home, his focus was to be at her side and try to help any way he could.
“It gave me a bit of a different perspective because growing up, hockey was my main focus in life,” he said. “Playing in the NHL, making it, being a big player on the team, someone the team turns to. But family and health are most important. I didn’t want to dump everything on her with what’s going on in my hockey career and, obviously, I would just hold everything inside and just worry about her and how she’s doing. It felt like a juggling act of emotions. You want to make sure she’s doing OK, but then you don’t want to just kind of bury things down inside that are going to eat you up.
“I think when you go through adversity or all these challenges, especially at a young age, it benefits you. You’re going to come out of it stronger. That way, when you’ve faced more challenges down the road, it doesn’t seem as difficult as it would have been.”
‘Another hard year’
A painful yell filled the quiet visitors’ room at Chicago’s United Center as reporters filed in to interview Sabres players. In an adjacent room, Thompson just had his dislocated shoulder popped into place by a trainer.

Thompson enters his second full season of pro hockey and he wants to stay in one place this season: the Sabres
The injury, which Thompson describes as the “most painful” of his career, occurred in the final moments of a 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks on Nov. 17, 2019. Thompson was summoned to Chicago that morning to play his fourth game in four nights following a busy weekend with Rochester, yet he barely stepped on the ice in his return to the Sabres until the score was out of reach.
Thompson chipped the puck into the offensive zone and reached it before defenseman Olli Maatta pinned him against the boards. As Thompson tried to break free, he felt a pop in his shoulder.
“The pain really didn’t start settling in until I was skating back to the bench,” he said. “I just kind of had my shoulder hanging there. I tried to move it a little bit and I couldn’t. I almost passed out when they put it back. Face just lost all color. … I just remember the flight home being really uncomfortable. The whole way home, you’re just thinking, ‘I already know it’s a long-term thing.’ Frustration sets in.”
A few weeks of conservative treatment proved ineffective. Thompson underwent season-ending surgery, eliminating his opportunity to prove he was ready to be an impact player for the Sabres. He spent the previous summer training tirelessly in the gym and on the ice. His 5,000-calorie-per-day diet allowed him to add strength to his 6-foot-6 frame. Now, he was faced with a long recovery and restricted free agency on the horizon.
For the duration of the 2019-20 season, Tage and Rachel lived in the Marriott at LECOM Harborcenter. He needed her to pull him out of the inevitable spiral that athletes endure during a long recovery. At Rachel’s urging, the couple left the hotel as often as possible. They went to the movies, walked around the mall, tried new restaurants and took Buff around the city.
Rachel’s been there for Tage since long before he arrived in Buffalo, even when she was finishing her degree at UConn. The couple had regular FaceTime calls during his time with the Blues. She visited him in San Antonio and St. Louis when possible. Only distance has separated them since they first met at a Halloween party.
“It was hard because there’s a lot of emotions,” Rachel recalled, making eye contact with Tage as she spoke. “You’re trying to manage your feelings and trying to understand what’s going on. It’s tricky because you want what’s best for him. I’ve seen all the work he puts in and then to have the shoulder year was really tough because you got your chance back in Buffalo and obviously, the first game you got hurt. That was another hard year.”
The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the start of the following season until January 2021, but Thompson appeared prime to take on a prominent role. After receiving a three-year contract from then-new General Manager Kevyn Adams, Thompson was among the Sabres’ best players in training camp and earned a spot on the top line next to Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall.

With added strength to compete in a short training camp, Thompson will use the lessons learned in Rochester, and the appetite to be a fixture in the NHL, to try to make an impact in Buffalo.
Krueger had little patience, though. Thompson was demoted and eventually taken out of the lineup. He was assigned to the taxi squad despite his immense potential, and didn’t play for a bulk of the club’s franchise-record 18-game winless streak. He kept working, though. And his path to playing time was clear once Don Granato was elevated to interim coach in March 2021.
Granato could finally offer the opportunity that wasn’t available when he coached Thompson at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Then, Thompson was a lanky, skilled teenager stuck behind Eichel and Detroit Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin on the depth chart.
In Buffalo, Granato put Thompson in the lineup in the final weeks of the 2020-21 season, injected confidence by expressing belief in his talent and concocted a plan to move him to center.
“The adversity, I never doubted he would handle it,’ said Granato. “What I was trying to do was make sure he knew my belief that the day was going to come, and he was gonna get to the other side of it. As I watched his training, his targeting, his routine, I knew he was on the cusp of getting to the other side of it. Then, we started to have totally different conversations (when I became coach). The start of last year was, ‘It’s time to score. You’ve done all the work. You did all the work. You are a goal scorer, you are a playmaker, you are a bona fide NHL player. It’s time.’
“He’s done it. He’s proved it. And he’s got an appetite for more, which is probably most fun of all now.”
Buffalo Sabres player Tage Thompson makes his way to pregame prior to playing the Carolina Hurricanes at the KeyBank Center on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. 
Growth
Wearing an ‘A’ on the front of his jersey to denote his standing as an alternate captain for a recent preseason game, Tage Thompson skated to the corner of the ice during warmups to pose for a photo with Rachel and Brooks, who stood on the other side of the glass.
“Honestly, I’m just so happy for him,” said Brent, Tage’s father. “The biggest thing is they have such a great relationship. They truly love each other, and they’re there for each other. The support they give each other is outstanding. She’s obviously a fantastic mother and I’m happy to see them grow together. To see them when they met as teenagers, and now they’ve got a family, it’s pretty special.”
It was the type of hockey moment Thompson envisioned when he heard the news in December that Rachel was expecting a boy. He dreams of having Brooks in the team’s dressing room to share in his and the Sabres’ success. Tage was a stick boy with the New York Islanders when his father was an assistant coach there and current Sabres winger Kyle Okposo was on the team. Thompson occasionally helped the equipment staff and hung around the rink with his younger brother, Tyce, a prospect with the New Jersey Devils.
As the couple awaited Brooks’ arrival, Rachel read numerous parenting books and relayed the information to Tage. They watched a birthing class and received the typical tidbits of advice for first-time parents. Meanwhile, on the ice last season, Tage established himself as a reliable goal scorer and playmaker. He also emerged as one of several leaders in the Sabres’ dressing room.
“I was just so happy for him because I know how hard he’s worked,” Rachel beamed again. “We always thought he could do it. To finally see it all come together, it was really awesome. Being pregnant at the same time, there were just so many exciting things happening all at once.”
Tage’s new contract gives them stability after years of uncertainty. They won’t have to pack all of their belongings at the end of each season. Their focus is raising their baby boy. Tage joked he is still “not a morning person,” though Brooks’ sleep schedule has been generous recently.
“I could not hold a baby to save my life before he came and it was very awkward,” Tage joked. “Then, as soon as he came, it’s like I’ve been doing it my whole life. It’s shown me that I will do anything for him.”
“It’s shown me I’m a way more relaxed parent than I thought I was going to be,” Rachel shared as the two laughed. “Just the idea that you can love something so much, more than anything else in the world, is so cool to learn.”
They are elated to have support from both families, even from afar. Rachel’s parents helped the couple get settled into Buffalo. They’re learning the parenting routines that work best for them and Brooks.
Coming home to his wife and son allows Tage’s mind to escape thoughts of hockey. Rachel doesn’t have to pull him out of that thought pattern like years past. As parents, they are growing together, like they have done since that chance encounter at UConn that led to a life-changing relationship.
“She’s been great,” he said. “You come home, have a bad game or whatever, it can seem like the end of the world. It’s really not. Coming home, she helps put everything into perspective. I try to leave hockey at the rink as much as I can, but sometimes it’s so hard for me to do that. It’s my life. … She does a great job helping me kind of drop it and now that we have him, it’s been even better.
“You come home from the rink and however bad you thought your day was, it’s always great to see them. It just always makes me happy.”
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News Sports Reporter
I’ve covered the Sabres and National Hockey League for The Buffalo News since November 2018. My previous work included coverage of the Pittsburgh Pirates and University of Pittsburgh athletics for DKPittsburghSports.com.
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Tage Thompson with wife, Rachel, and son, Brooks. 
Buffalo Sabres center Tage Thompson prepares to take a faceoff against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at the KeyBank Center on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022.
Buffalo Sabres player Tage Thompson makes his way to pregame prior to playing the Carolina Hurricanes at the KeyBank Center on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. 
Buffalo Sabres player Tage Thompson during the first day of training camp at the KeyBank Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. 
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