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Former scrapper Thompson shows flair for offence as head coach of Spitfires

NHL.com @NHL

Rocky Thompson has a flair for the offensive, even if he didn't show it during his playing days.

Thompson had just 17 goals in 591 games, or 0.29 goals per game, as a professional hockey player. By comparison, the number that stands out most from his pro career is his whopping 2,036 penalty minutes.

So it was a surprise that Thompson's presentation at last June's annual coach's symposium at the NHL Entry Draft in Florida on offensive hockey ? not offensive as in unpleasant, but offensive as in zone plays and scoring goals ? was so good that it landed him a head coaching job in the Ontario Hockey League.

"It was unbelievable," said Windsor Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel. "I knew who he was because he used to be a scrapper, but I didn't know him personally. I'm sitting there thinking, 'Offensive zone play with Rocky Thompson?' Ten minutes into the thing you have NHL coaches ? Jack Adams Trophy winners ? taking notes.

"Rocky's presentation was the best one; he knocked it dead."

The Spitfires immediately pursued the 38-year-old Thompson to be their new head coach. Thompson still had a year left on his contract as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers, but left to join the Spitfires.

"I didn't let him go to Edmonton," Rychel said. "I took him from Fort Lauderdale to Windsor to meet our owners."

Thompson, who's professional career included 25 NHL games with Calgary and Florida, said speaking in front of NHL coaches was nerve-wracking.

"What are you going to say to Joel Quenneville or Barry Trotz or Mike Babcock that they don't already know?" Thompson said. "It's not easy to get up in front of those guys. My knees were shaking."

Thompson believes there are principals that have existed back to the 1920s regarding goal-scoring and scoring chances. He used analytical data and video evidence on stage to support his claim. Thompson's theory suggests all offensive zone opportunities are generated or created by creating 2-on-1s against the opposition.

"You are never 1-on-1 unless you have no support from your team," Thompson said. "Even when there are back-checkers off the rush there are still opportunities to create a 2-on-1 situation within that structure."

Thompson said there are certain areas on the ice that need to be exposed in today's game.

"You would never tell a forward 10 years ago to cut across the middle of the ice with the puck in the offensive zone off the rush because the back-checkers would take his head off," Thompson said. "Now they aren't allowed to take your head off; that player hardly exists that makes you pay a price for doing it. If we can penetrate the middle ice and cut across it, we are making our chance of scoring go up more exponentially than if you stay on the same side and shoot."

Thompson's theories helped the Spitfires open the season 5-1-1-0 and they have out-scored the opposition 29-19 entering Thursday's home game against Ottawa.

Asked how a guy who couldn't put the puck in the ocean as a player winds up teaching offence, Thompson said that's easy.

"Two things. I was a defenceman or defensive forward when I played so I knew how all those goals got scored against me. Also, I was very detailed when I played. I wasn't as good as everyone else so I needed to try to even the odds as much as I could and maximize my ability by knowing all these little details that would give me an edge where I didn't have an edge in skill."

Rychel describes Thompson's coaching style as well-planned and calculated.

"There are teachers and there are screamers," Rychel said. "Rocky is a teacher. His demeanour is amazing."

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