Sharks Prospect Profile: Thomas Heemskerk

On Sept. 29, 2009, San Jose Sharks Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Wilson announced the Sharks had signed free agent goaltender Thomas Heemskerk to an entry-level contract.

“Thomas played very well during this year’s {2009} rookie tournament and made a big impression on our staff,” said Wilson in a press release on the Sharks website. Doug Soetaert and Craig Hartsburg have done a tremendous job working with Thomas and we look forward to him continuing his development with our organization.”

Born in Chilliwack, B.C., Heemskerk first started skating at age seven after one of the workers at his parents flower nursery, who played hockey, took him out skating.

“My dad always preferred hiring hockey players, and they must have convinced my dad to put me in hockey,” said Heemskerk in an interview via Facebook messaging. “I was given a few of their sticks and that’s where it took off.”

Instantly hooked, Heemskerk signed up for skating lessons that didn’t go according to plan due to an orthopedic condition.

“I had a problem with being pigeon toed when I was younger and the skating instructor started to put me in net because I was always at the back of the line and I couldn’t do anything,” said Heemskerk in an Oct. 2009 interview with Su Ring of King 5 TV Seattle News. “It just kind of stuck from there on.”

After playing the 2006-07 season with the BC major midget Fraser Valley Bruins, Heemskerk surprised many in the hockey realm by making the roster of the Western Hockey League’s {WHL} Kootenay Ice for the 2007-08 season as a 17-year-old rookie. Serving as a backup to Kris Lazaruk, Heemskerk appeared in 27 games and registered a 15-4-3 record to go along with a 2.65 goals-against-average and a .906 save percentage.

Prior to the start of the 2008-09 season, the Ice signed Heemskerk’s Fraser Valley Bruins teammate Nathan Lieuwen, and feeling set in net for the next couple of seasons with Heemskerk and Lieuwen, the Ice traded Lazaruk to the Kelowna Rockets for a fourth-round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft. Rotating the duo on a consistent basis, Heemskerk registered a record of 7-6-2-2 in 18 games played to go along with a 2.88 goals-against-average and a .887 save percentage.

On Dec. 4, 2008, the Ice received the shocking news that Heemskerk was leaving the team and returning home, citing that his heart wasn’t in it anymore.

“Thomas came and spoke to me {Thursday} following the first part of our U.S. trip and said to me that his heart hasn’t been in the game of hockey dating back to last year,” said Ice General Manager Jeff Chynoweth in a Dec. 2009 interview with Jeff Bromley for an article on Bromley’s Ice Chips blog. “And he just felt it was his time to go home. Needless to say, I was in total shock and disbelief. There was no inkling whatsoever that this was coming about. None of the veteran players that I talked to had any idea this was coming.”

“I was having a hard time, and eventually took myself out of the situation in Kootenay,” said Heemskerk in the Facebook interview. “It was a hard time for me, no one likes to quit a season and leave their friends and teammates.”

After a few days away from the hockey, Heemskerk began getting the itch to play again but realized he needed a fresh start and a new team to give him a chance. On Dec. 30, 2008, Heemskerk got that fresh start and chance with a new team as the Ice traded him to the Everett Silvertips for a third-round pick in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft. Appearing in 27 games for the Silvertips that season, Heemskerk registered a 9-15-2 record to go along with a 3.32 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.

“It was a perfect situation for me,” said Heemskerk of the Everett trade in the Facebook interview. “I’ll always owe Doug Soetaert and the organization for getting me back on my feet.”

While training in the off-season that summer, Heemskerk stayed in constant contact with his agent as both were hoping something would materialize with a National Hockey League {NHL} club. After weeks of waiting, Heemskerk got the news he was being invited to the San Jose Sharks’ Training Camp on a tryout basis.

“I couldn’t believe it was true,” said Heemskerk in the Facebook interview. “The season I had was not picture perfect but I trained hard and prepared myself as best I could for the opportunity.”

Wanting to prove himself to the Sharks, Heemskerk found himself in net for two games at the 2009 Sharks Rookie Tournament. Playing against the Anaheim Ducks both games, Heemskerk stopped 61-of-64 shots en route to registering a 2-0 record to along with a 1.50 goals-against-average and a .948 save percentage.

“It was rewarding to win and be successful,” said Heemskerk in the Facebook interview. “It didn’t seem real at the time when you wearing a Sharks jersey playing against the Ducks.”

Impressed with his workouts at Training Camp and his performance at the Rookie Tournament, the Sharks signed Heemskerk to an entry-level contract.

“The contract was the least of my worries at the time,” said Heemskerk in the Facebook interview. “I just wanted to show them what I do best, make a name for myself and see where that would get me.”

Returning to the Silvertips for the 2009-10 season, Heemskerk appeared in 42 games and registered a 24-12-4 record to go along with a 2.34 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage.

On Sept. 17, 2010, the Silvertips traded Heemskerk to the Moose Jaw Warriors for 20-year-old defenseman Chad Suer in a move that didn’t shock Heemskerk.

“I knew a trade was in the works if I couldn’t crack the pro ranks,” said Heemskerk in the Facebook interview. “It’s a strange feeling waiting for the phone call that you’re being traded somewhere. I didn’t have a clue what teams were interested and Moose Jaw being a small town made it much more interesting.”

In his final WHL season, Heemskerk appeared in 65 games for the Warriors and registered a 36-21-6 overall record to go along with a 2.94 goals-against-average and a.908 save percentage. In addition, Heemskerk was named team Most Valuable Player along with forward Quinton Howden during the Yara Warriors Awards Night.

Leading the Warriors into the WHL Playoffs for a first round showdown with the Ice, Heemskerk played outstanding as he recorded two shutouts in the series to go along with a 2.52 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage.

Unfortunately, the Ice emerged victorious in six games after a thrilling game six on Warrior home ice at the Moose Jaw Civic Center, also known as The Crushed Can Arena, which saw the Warriors rally from a 3-0 deficit before losing a 5-4 heartbreaker.

The series clinching win for the Ice not only ended the Warriors season and an era at the Crushed Can Arena, but also the WHL careers of Spencer Edwards, Dylan Hood and Heemskerk.

“It’s one of those things that you hear about for a few years but it’s a lot harder to deal with when it’s your turn to be done in juniors,” said Heemskerk in the Facebook interview. “I avoided thinking of it as my last game, but when the game ended, it really sunk in. The Crushed Can was a great experience to play in. To play somewhere with so much history and such a unique design was something I’ll never forget, and it was special to have finished my year in it.”

With the junior hockey chapter of his career finished, Heemskerk, who loves being the difference maker and anchor for his team, has been enjoying his time off this off-season by spending time with family and friends. In addition, Heemskerk has been training in gyms and on rinks in preparation for the upcoming season.

“I haven’t heard anything of where I’ll play,” said Heemskerk in the Facebook interview. “I’d love to be in San Jose but I know for my development its best to start slow and work my way up.”

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