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Thompson fits bill of what Oilers were searching for

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
Photo by Steven Christy/OKC Barons

At the end of June, Edmonton Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said the team would explore adding another coach to the mix. Of the coaching candidates out there, Eakins was looking for someone to fill a role off the bench and was interested in a younger coach “who is more in touch with the players.”

On Wednesday the Oilers announced that the search had ended as they have appointed Rocky Thompson, 36, as an Assistant Coach. Thompson previously served for four years as an Assistant Coach with the Oilers American Hockey League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Barons.

“I’m absolutely excited,” Thompson said. “There’s no doubt about it. It really is a dream come true. 12 years ago was the last day I spent in the NHL as a member of the Florida Panthers at the time. Ever since that point I have been working to get back up and when the playing ended and my coaching career began that’s obviously the ultimate goal for anybody to achieve. I am so grateful that they’re putting confidence in me to come up and join a great coaching staff here so I am extremely excited.”

Thompson fits the bill of the coach that Eakins and the Oilers were looking to add. He’s 36 and has already built relationships with the players in the system, having worked with them in Oklahoma City. He’ll bring those assets along with his energy to Edmonton, a place he is very familiar with.

“I enjoy every day at the rink as any coach would tell you. 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. I know what I am talking about and I can relay messages from coaches to players. 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 there and we’ve had a winning culture down there. I hope to continue that relationship that there has been already a foundation laid in the past.

Photo by Steven Christy/OKC Barons

“That’s the type of guy that I am. I am bring a lot of energy, I am full of energy and I have a lot of passion for the game. I’ve been an Oiler for I believe 10 of the last 12 years as a player in the organization, a coach in their junior system (Assistant Coach for the Edmonton Oil Kings) all the way up to the Oklahoma City Barons and now I’m getting an opportunity in the NHL. I feel like I have been an Oiler for a long time and I’m excited to be a part of it at the highest level possible.”

Eakins and the Oilers were also looking to add a piece to their coaching staff that would fill the “eye in the sky” role for the team. In Oklahoma City, Thompson would spend the first two periods of a game in the press box, communicating to the bench via radio. He’d help with adjustments and provide a different perspective to Head Coach Todd Nelson and fellow Assistant Coach Gerry Fleming.

“I would pre-scout all of the teams that came in and played us so I had a good understanding of what it is that was going to be coming at us that night,” Thompson said. “Then what would happen is adjustments would be made as teams decide to play you differently and that’s what I would focus on above. I would also focus on our own personal systems and our execution from that standpoint. I could radio down to the bench and let them know that a system has been changed coming against us and the different things we needed to do to combat those things. When you’re on the bench, sometimes it is hard to see. The game is so quick and there are a lot of responsibilities like your line combinations and more. It’s something I can give them a quick solution and we can implement that on the bench quickly.”

In addition to team and system adjustments, Thompson could focus on individual matchups and players. He’d identify weaknesses on the opposing team or be able to let his players know what they were doing right or wrong on any given night.

Thompson will fill a similar role in Edmonton. On game nights he will be in the press box, and although he has not defined all of his responsibilities with Eakins yet, he will most likely be doing much of what he did in Oklahoma City.

Photo by Steven Christy/OKC Barons

“Dallas could be on the bench asking what is happening on our forecheck in this situation and I can replay the video and radio down what exactly is going on,” he said. “It gives the coaches on the bench an understanding and something they may want to do (to fix it). It just gives you a little more time up there to process the information and then relay that information to the bench. It’s hard to do at ice level. It’s not impossible but when you have another set of eyes upstairs it can be beneficial.”

When Thompson heard what Eakins was looking for in his new assistant, the job description was right up his alley. It was just too good to be true.

“I phoned and asked that I be considered as a potential candidate because of the individual that they were looking for and that Dallas described in his interviews and I thought that it was something that I was definitely a person who could help the organization in that facet. When we were at Orientation Camp I ended up having an interview with Dallas and it went well. Then it was a process of just waiting until a decision was made. Then when I got the call from Dallas it was obviously hard for me to control my emotion. I was in a car driving back with my family from the Calgary Stampede and it was quite surreal.”

Young? Check. Good rapport with the players? Check. Experience being the eye in the sky? Check again. Passion for the game? Thompson has loads of the stuff.

What also made Thompson a prime candidate was his ability to teach and his experience in player development.

“It’s a responsibility that I had down there,” he said. “There are things that you have to practice. There is skill development. There are fundamental skills that sometimes great players don’t always have in their game because they never really needed it like play without the puck. 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. I played both forward and defence and these are all little things that I can help any player on the Edmonton Oilers learn. I am good at identifying roles and ways that a player can help themselves be successful in a game and help themselves contribute in a game. It’s obviously important that there are always roles on a team and it’s something that I’m good at. I think I do a good job teaching.”

Thompson sees the Oilers generating a family atmosphere amongst their staff. It’s a family that Thompson is eager to join and in a role he is well equipped to fill.

“I’m not going to take this for granted for one second of any day and I am going to work as hard as I can to help the coaches and to help this team succeed going forward.”

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