Not many people get to say they became a hero for their country overnight.
Akil Thomas is one of the few.
Scoring the gold medal winning goal for Team Canada in the World Juniors this past winter, Thomas became a massive focus for all sports outlets and fans in his home country, and he says it was an experience he will never forget.
“It was a whirlwind,” Thomas said. “A lot of text messages and congratulations, a lot of attention, interviews and autographs. But if I can make a kid’s day and make them smile, then that means the world to me, that’s why I do it. If I can make my country proud, make Canada a winning country, then that’s great too, it’s been a dream of mine. It’s died down a bit, which I’m grateful for. It’s been crazy, it’s a lifechanging goal that I scored, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. It’s my dream to play for Team Canada and to make that happen. It’s a humbling experience and I’m grateful for the people that allowed me to become a good hockey player and play for Team Canada.”
As for the significance of the goal to him, he said that the full reality of the goal still hasn’t set in, and he’s not sure if it ever will.
“It’s still so fresh for me,” Thomas said. “Whenever I watch highlights of the game, I can’t really put it into sense that it was our team, that it was the world junior tournament and we won it for Canada. It just doesn’t make sense yet, and I’m not sure if it ever will. We know as a team we accomplished something very few people get to do. It’s amazing, I’m still on the high and I’m looking forward to June when we all get to celebrate that.”
Quickly after coming home, Thomas was traded from Niagara to Peterborough, in a trade he knew was going to happen, but he said still didn’t sting any less.
“I knew I was going to get traded, but didn’t really know where I was going to end up going. It’s been a whirlwind to say the least, but it’s just the way the OHL works. If you’re rebuilding you sell if you’re going for it, you buy. It’s the way it works every year.”
While he was excited for the opportunity to play for a contender, the disappointment of spending as much of his career in Niagara as he did, made the transition to be a bit difficult.
“I was kind of disappointed,” Thomas said. “I went from a team where I loved the environment and the city. I had a lot of good experiences in Niagara. Getting traded was emotional, and didn’t really know what to expect (but I) ended up really liking it. We really thought we had a legitimate chance to win this year. For it to (end) is disappointing.”
Drafted by the LA Kings in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft, Thomas says he’s looking forward to getting to know his future teammates better when developmental camp comes around.
“I’m pretty close with the (OHL) guys,” Thomas said. “I’ve played against them for a while and train with them during the summer. I know (Arthur) Kaliyev just from developmental camp and main camp. I hung out with Mikey Anderson and Blake Lizotte during camp this year. There’s a lot of good guys in the organization and I’m looking forward to get to know them more.”
Thomas says that he just wants to show up to camp in the fall and put his best foot forward.
“All I really know is that I had a strong camp last year,” Thomas said. “I’m looking to build off that and be better this coming camp. We have a lot of good prospects coming in, but at the end of the day it’s going to be up to me and my training. You obviously want to play sooner rather than later. I just want to get up there as soon as I can. I have to believe in myself and things will work out the way they are supposed to. I’m not too worried about how it’s going to happen. I have to work, trust myself and someday make it.”
It looks as if Thomas will get his chance to prove he belongs.