Thomas Place was a goalie before he knew what a goalie was. At the tender age of 2, all Place wanted to do was play hockey with his three older brothers in the driveway. So his brothers obliged by covering him in pads, sticking him in front of the net and firing pucks at him. Aren’t older brothers the best? “They made a game out of it,” Place, now 17, says.
While his brothers were having a good time, something about being a goalie stuck with Place. Even when he took the ice as a skater he would still drift back and stand in front of the goal. It was only natural that he gave in to his inner goalie and pulled on the mask and pads.
Fast forward to this winter and the 5-foot-8, 155-pound Place is among the top goaltenders in town. He’s a stalwart between the pipes for St. Louis University High, which is an outstanding 14-2-3 and eyeing a No. 2 seed in the Challenge Cup playoffs, set to begin next week.
Place has played every minute in goal this season for the Junior Billikens. Which means he was the guy who helped keep the high-flying CBC offense from, well, flying so high. Place made 23 saves last week as SLUH took out CBC 2-1 for its second win against the Cadets in three tries this winter. In the waning moments of the game, the Cadets threw everything they had at Place but he made the save time and again. Even when CBC pulled its goalie in a desperate attempt to tie the game, Place kept them out.
On the season, Place is allowing just over two goals per game but made nearly 400 saves in that time. Even the one CBC slipped past him last week was one that slipped off his mitt. “I should have had it,” he says.
Place has always been a goaltender, but he hasn’t always loved hockey. There was a stretch in his early days at SLUH he thought about giving up the sport all together. “I kind of had a downfall,” he says. Maybe it was burnout.
Maybe it was lack of playing time. Since he was 5 years old, Place watched all his older brothers play for the SLUH varsity and struggled when he wasn’t earning those varsity minutes as a younger player.
By falling out of love with hockey, if only for awhile, it allowed him to pursue other things and he found something that sparked him—lacrosse. He was introduced to the game as a freshman at SLUH. By his sophomore season, he had taken a spot on the varsity and was loving every minute of it. Now he’ll take his game to Marquette University and suit up for the Golden Eagles as a nonscholarship player on a newly minted Division I program. And no, he’s not a goalie. He’s a forward for the Junior Billikens lacrosse team.
But his passion for hockey has been reignited this year because he knows it will more than likely be his last on the ice. Place says SLUH has enjoyed the ride of this season, but it’s bigger goals are still ahead. The Junior Billikens are set on making it down to the Scottrade Center and playing for the Challenge Cup championship. “I’ve been in the locker room the last two years, and it’s hard to see the seniors cry,” he says. “I don’t want to be in that situation.”
To reach their goal, the Junior Billikens will have to be at their best in the postseason. Place says SLUH is at its best when it scores first. “The best thing for us to do is get ahead before the other team does,” he says. “Our two losses have come when the other team scored first.”