While the club stays consistent with Head Coach Dallas Eakins and Associate Coach Keith Acton
at the helm, they also added Craig Ramsay and Rocky Thompson as assistant coaches during the off-season, giving them two more teaching assets for their players. Ramsay, 63, has over 40 years of NHL experience as a player and a coach. Thompson, 37, comes to the Oilers from their American Hockey League affiliate in Oklahoma City. Aside from both being great teachers, the new faces have a passion for the game and the desire to keep the fun in hockey.
|Craig Ramsay (Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club) |
“The reason you played the game initially was because it was fun and the reason to stay in it is to have fun,” said Ramsay. “The most important thing for me was to go to an organization that understands the value of fun, whether it’s in practice, games or after games. It’s understanding that if you’re in this together and you’re a part of something then it’s fun.”
Thompson is right there with Ramsay.
“I enjoy every day at the rink as any coach would tell you,” said Thompson. “It’s an amazing feeling. I am a guy who likes to have fun. I can be very serious obviously, but I always have a smile on my face.”
Fun aside, the Oilers mean business. The team is hoping to make major strides this season and it will fall on the coaching staff to pull the players together, making sure everyone is marching in the same direction. Thompson is a key piece in helping that vision come to fruition.
As a younger coach, closer to the ages of the Oilers young stars, and having worked with some of the players already in Oklahoma City, Thompson bridges the age and experience gap between the roster and the coaches.
“He’s that bridge between the players’ ages and myself and the rest of our staff,” said Head Coach Dallas Eakins.
Thompson will assist in pre-scouting opponents and will be Eakins’ eye -in-the-sky when it comes to in-game systems and player adjustments. It’s a role he’s very familiar with from his time in the AHL. But according to Eakins, Thompson’s most important duties involve teaching in practice and locker room settings.
“His most important role is going to be on a day-to-day basis with prepping and preparing our players to go out there and play.”
It’s something Eakins feels Thompson is ready for, given his “hunger to teach.”
“I know what I am talking about and I can relay messages from coaches to players,” said Thompson. “I have great relationships with guys who are currently on the team. We have had a lot of those guys play with us in Oklahoma City and I have an advantage that we built a relationship down here and we’ve had a winning culture down there. I hope to continue that relationship.”
Thompson was drafted in the third round of the 1995 NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames. He played 25 NHL games in his career for the Flames and the Florida Panthers. He spent the majority of his career in the AHL, before moving on to become an assistant coach with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and then the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons.
While Thompson is the bridge between the players and the rest of the staff, Ramsay is the more experienced teacher with a modern touch.
Rocky Thompson (Photo by Andy Devlin)
“I think that’s why he’s so well-respected,” Eakins said. “He’s up-to-date. He’s a sought-after coach and when we got into the talks, the thing that really struck me with him was how aggressive he likes to see the game played. That is something that we want to take another step at. It fits right in with my philosophy and the way we’re going. A lot of times when you pick up a much older coach, it’s that same-old defensive way of playing and that’s not the case with Craig. Craig wants to play an extremely aggressive game, an exciting game.”
Buffalo originally drafted Ramsay in the second round in 1971 and he played over 1,000 NHL games
in his career, all with the Sabres. He went on to coach for the Sabres, Panthers, Senators, Flyers, Lightning, Bruins and Thrashers, serving as bench boss in Buffalo (1986-87), Philadelphia (2000-01) and Atlanta (2010-11).
Ramsay will take the reins of the Oilers defence this season and collaborate with Eakins and Acton on special teams.
“His teaching abilities are incredible. That’s something with our group that we greatly need. His dealings with the players are very personal, a lot of one-on-one interaction which I think is extremely important,” Eakins said.
Ramsay’s aggressive philosophy fits perfectly with what Eakins wants to see from the defence this season.
“While we need to teach players, defencemen especially, how to play well in their own end, having good sticks and getting body position, it’s also about getting back to the puck fast, using your partner and the first play up, you’re following up,” Ramsay said. “That means you’ve got a better gap and you’re having fun in the game. You’re not just passing it up and watching people play. You’re part of the whole concept of getting up and trying to score a goal. You have to follow up. It puts a lot more pressure on the players.”
“It’s a more difficult game to play because you’ve got to skate and work, but in the long run it’s a heck of a lot more fun. It’s fun for them, it’s fun for the coaching staff, I think it’s fun for the fans when they see their team trying to get up-ice pressure and trying to be involved in that way. The players are going to find out that Dallas, myself and Keith are going to push the players to be in great shape but most importantly to figure out the game and to understand the game.”
With the offensive talent on the Oilers roster, the coaching staff will place a focus on teaching those skilled players how to play defence the right way, and in doing so, hopefully improvements will be made in the possession game. Their philosophy: The better you play defence, the more you have the puck.
“That’s the concept we want to have as an organization,” Ramsay said. “We want to take these kids to where they’re great offensive young talent and you’ve got to teach them how to play defence and the importance of understanding the defensive side of the game.
“You can still play with an offensive mindset once you understand that if you’re good without the puck, you have it more. You get it back faster and you get to go up ice more. The key issue for young people is to get them to understand to pay the price without the puck and that means you have a lot more fun playing with it.”
Thompson also buys into that mentality, having learned it as a player himself. It’s something he also believes he specializes in as a coach.
“There are fundamental skills that sometimes great players don’t always have in their game because they never really needed it, like playing without the puck,” Thompson said.
That was a strength of my game because I wasn’t the greatest player with the puck. That was always a weakness so I tried to master the game and how to play it without the puck. That’s how I know every trick of the trade because my feet weren’t the best and I had to know little tricks in order to help make my game better.”
Both of the new assistants believe they can come together with the rest of the staff and formulate a successful plan for the season.
“We’re going to figure it out,” Ramsay said. “It’s not like it’s just me and I’m just excited to go in there and throw out some of my ideas. We’ll work hard to find a system that we believe is going to work for the players and work for everyone to make it a little bit better.”
With a staff fully committed to improving the product on the ice, Eakins puts that same challenge on the players.
“I did challenge the players to make themselves better, to think how they can make their teammates better, and I let them know that I would do the same,” Eakins said. “We have a staff that is fully on board, we have all of the bases covered, our strength coaches have done an excellent job this summer, our therapists have done an excellent job and we’re ready to move forward. We need to get into it now and we’ve got to make sure we are providing our players with the right messages, and then it is up to our players to accept the coaching and execute it.”
The goal for the Oilers this season is significant improvement on the ice and winning more hockey games. There may be two new faces on the Oilers coaching staff, but that goal remains unchanged.