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Head Coach Hunt: Rocky Thompson

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The current Chicago Wolves head coach could be a dark horse candidate for the job in Anaheim.

Rocky Thompson

Age: 41

NHL Coaching Record: N/A

AHL Coaching Record: 167-85-36

Call him a “dark horse” candidate, as there is no known connection to the Anaheim Ducks, but Rocky Thompson has been making some waves in the lower level coaching ranks. Maybe, just maybe he gets his first shot as an NHL coach in Anaheim.

Rocky Thompson was a hard-nosed player who was known for his fiery playing style, dropping the gloves in the prototypical enforcer role. He had a couple cups of coffee in the NHL (25 total games), but spent most of his career in the AHL with 566 career games. Per hockeyfights.com, he totaled 96 fights in professional career. Below are his career stats via hockeydb.com.

You might ask, “why would a career grinder/bottom liner make a good coach?”.

I cannot remember where I heard this quote, but it reminded me of guys like Rocky Thompson. The quote was something along the lines of, “Do you think Wayne Gretzky really needed to be coached? Do you think Mario Lemieux ever needed help at hockey? No way. Me on the other hand, I had to pay attention to every coach, every practice, every drill, to even have a shot. I know what I liked in a coach, what I didn’t like in a coach and more importantly, what the other guys thought of various coaches and coaching styles.”

In an interview with Craig Custance on the Full 60 Podcast, Thompson had a handful of quotes that really stood out to me. A couple of examples are below (note: These are paraphrased and not word for word):

“Just because I didn’t have the talent to be a great hockey player, didn’t mean that I didn’t have the mind to be one. I didn’t have the skill, but I always was always thinking and learning the game. My skill is what held me back as a player, not my mind, approach or effort”

“The word “fun” gets thrown around here and there. I am always reminding my guys, you know what fun is? Busting your ass all week in practice with your teammates and then beating the other the team. There is no greater feeling in the world then going out there and getting a win against the other team with the guys you care about most and worked the hardest with”

While these quotes do not shed any insight on his X’s and O’s, they do give a little insight into the mindset he has and approach he brings as a coach. It is one thing to say the right things and prepare for victory, but at the end of the day, results are what matter most. And Coach Thompson has had nothing but success in his short coaching career.

After a handful of years as an assistant coach in the AHL, he spent 2015 as an assistant in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. He then took over as head coach for the OHL Windsor Spitfires where he led them to an overall record of 81-40-1 that included a Memorial Cup victory in 2017.

He was then hired and is currently coaching the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. Ironically, they are squaring off against Dallas Eakins and the San Diego Gulls in the Western Conference Finals for the Calder Cup. Eakins is an obvious coaching candidate for the Ducks. His case was broken down here earlier this month. Could this series be the ultimate job interview for the two coaches?

Ducks GM Bob Murray was quoted in April saying that he wanted to wait until a few coaches seasons had ended before he began the interview process. Easy to speculate that the Ducks future bench boss may be a coach that is still in the NHL or AHL playoffs. If we are strictly looking at the AHL, this includes Dallas Eakins, Mike Vellucci (Charlotte Checkers and Sheldon Keefe (Toronto Marlies). Eric Stephens of The Athletic touched on all three of the candidates in this article. However, Rocky Thompson’s name was not mentioned even though he is one of the four remaining coaches.

Maybe it’s his lack of overall head coaching experience?

Maybe it’s the fact that the other candidates mentioned to date are basically more experienced versions of Head Coach Rocky Thompson?

While he may be a long shot for the Ducks job, Rocky Thompson is on the fast track to becoming an NHL head coach. He has been reported to be a forward thinking, hardworking, and player friendly coach who is meticulous in his preparation. It may be a bit early in his career to bring him on, but it could also be a risk that pays off.