The Islanders introduced former Bridgeport Sound Tigers Head Coach Brent Thompson as the newest member of the coaching staff Wednesday morning. Thompson coached the Islanders top minor league affiliate to their first division championship in a decade with a 41-26-9 record last season. The Islanders new assistant coach, who last played in the NHL during the 1996-97 season with the Phoenix Coyotes, couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm about returning to the NHL Wednesday morning after the announcement.
“I guess I’m ridiculously excited,” Thompson said. “I don’t know if those are the right words. It’s a great opportunity and I obviously have to thank Garth Snow, Jack Capuano and the organization for giving me the opportunity. Hopefully we can translate the little baby steps we took last year in Bridgeport into helping out here with the Islanders.”
Thompson’s coaching career started when he was a player/ coach with the CHL’s Colorado Eagles in 2003-04. The Calgary, AB native played one more season in the American Hockey League before becoming an assistant for the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen in 2005. After four seasons with Peoria, Thompson took the head coaching job with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL. In 2011, only his second season in Anchorage, he led the Aces to the Kelly Cup Championship.
Thompson’s whirlwind coaching rise continued last summer when Snow named him Head Coach in Bridgeport and then 365 days later, promoted him to a position behind the Islanders bench.
“Obviously, the dream is to be in the NHL and to coach in the NHL,” Thompson said. “I didn’t have the expectations this soon, but I think with the success of our players down there (in Bridgeport) and the way they’ve developed – I think when you get that chance you’ve got to grab it and run with it.”
Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano said that one of the reasons Thompson was tabbed for the job was his great relationship with the prospects in Bridgeport, many of whom will have a chance to compete for spots this season with the Islanders.
“He understands the way that we want to play,” Capuano said. “They played the same system (in Bridgeport). He executed it very well and Brent’s going to run our defense. We both have a real good idea of how we want our defensemen to play and he’s going to do a good job back there for us running our D.”
Thompson was originally drafted in 1989 by the Los Angeles Kings and turned pro in 1991 following his junior hockey career with the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers. He split the next six seasons manning the blue line for the Kings, Winnipeg Jets and Coyotes, while also spending time with those clubs’ IHL and AHL affiliates. He finished his NHL career with 121 games, but continued to play in the minors until 2005.
For me, there are no excuses. I was a very simple, hard-working defenseman and I expect every guy to work hard, whether they’re skilled or not. - Islanders Assistant Coach Brent Thompson
With 21 years’ experience in professional hockey as a player and a coach, Thompson clearly understands the challenges that the players face. Islanders forward Casey Cizikas played 52 games for Thompson last season in Bridgeport and saw how players reacted to his wisdom.
“He knows what it takes to go out there every single night,” Cizikas said. “He understood what we would go through and stuff like that, but at the same time, if it was practice or if it was a game, he always expected the best. He always expected 110% from us and guys gave that for him.”
Thompson agreed that his strong suit as a coach has been in communicating with and motivating his young players.
“I’ve been through a lot of things in my career,” Thompson said. “Whether it was in the NHL or in the minors; hopefully that can help in some of the situations that guys like (Andrew) MacDonald, (Travis) Hamonic or (Mark) Streit are going to have.”
Not blessed with elite skills as a player, Thompson prolonged his playing career by working at his craft day after day. The hard-nosed style Thompson once employed on the ice has translated into his coaching philosophies.
“I have high expectations for each player,” Thompson said. “For me, there are no excuses. I was a very simple, hard-working defenseman and I expect every guy to work hard, whether they’re skilled or not.”
Cizikas is looking forward to seeing Thompson with the Islanders in the fall because he knows that he gets the most out of his players.
“Guys wanted to go out there every night and they had that respect for him,” Cizikas said. “When he said something, the guys did it. If you talk to any guy from Bridgeport last year, they’ll tell you the exact same thing. They loved playing for him.”
This week, Thompson is sporting an Islanders windbreaker, instructing the organization’s prospects during drills on the ice. After spending the last decade-and-a-half in the minor leagues, Thompson is finally back where he feels he belongs.
“I’m proud to be an Islander,” Thompson said. “And I am very thankful to be a part of this Islander family.”