One of the good guys (who was an on-ice “bad” guy) in the coaching game, Rocky Thompson, has been promoted from assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Barons to the third assistant alongside Dallas Eakins with the Edmonton Oilers. Known for his grizzly ways as a player, Thompson has blossomed into one heckuva “X’s” and “O’s” type coach who mostly watches Oklahoma City Barons games from the press box. For all the gushing I do over Todd Nelson, the two assistants who have worked alongside him for the first four seasons of AHL play in OKC are equally as capable and highly sought after.
Typical gamedays were spent with Gerry Fleming and Todd Nelson behind the bench. There were times where all three were behind the crowded player pine, but those times were rare. However, when Thompson was rinkside he was known for donning a fedora of masculine proportions. A nod, most likely, to his colorful tendencies of old.
Rocky likes the chess match of the game, and was thus a great fit for watching games from the rafters. He would feverishly mark, chop, cut, and patch game footage to use for a later date. Even when the NHL lockout was a thing he was honing the positional strategy of players like Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and Schultz. They should shake his hand. He would take the good, the bad, and the entirely awful, and use those things as teachable snippets of time. The learning curve was lessened as a result, and players actually got better.
During practice Thompson was the coach responsible for coming alongside players, teaching them the proper way to check, nay finish a check. He was a fighting instructor. He was an energy guy. He was the third coach that the players really called one of their own.
He is a guy that is not only well-liked, but tenacious at every possible moment. When he laced up his skates for training camp you’d have thought he was going to join the squad in drills. His love of the game permeated his time spent with players, with coaches, and even with fans.
Off the ice he did so many things for the local OKC community including a “south campus” for the Rocky Hockey School that originated in Sherwood Park years ago. His dedication to the Habitat for Humanity builds, his desire to be a huge part of the Barons Buddies program, and his overall demeanor in public were a tremendous display of character. And perhaps he will be missed more for that than anything else.
The interesting turn here is that Todd Nelson remains the AHL coach, Gerry Fleming (for now) remains the assistant, and a new hire likely comes in before the season starts (Patricia mentioned the job posting many months ago). But stop the presses! Troy Mann, coaching Bakersfield last season, has snatched a job with the Hershey Bears, the most storied program in the American league. That leaves a huge vacancy in Bakersfield for the upcoming season. Wouldn’t Rocky Thompson have been the most logical choice for that job? Absolutely. Not only would he get a HC position, but he would take on that job knowing that the org is locally run well, and that Mann spent less than 80 games there before entertaining AHL HC jobs. That’s huge. I’m not sure he will get that much exposure with the Oilers. Then again, Thompson is an Alberta guy with roots in the Oil Kings organization, and we know how those bonds seem to be unbreakable of late. His paycheck is likely larger too, and maybe that has something to do with it. Regardless, the faster track to the head coaching somewhere might have been through ECHL, but I think Thompson is willing to gamble.
So as my brain cramps just a bit I think of Fleming and Nelson who have both chosen to stay in the minor leagues despite likely (this is me speculating grossly) being offered or at least considered for assistant jobs in Edmonton. Fleming is a great coach too, and perhaps he is sitting pretty, waiting for the ECHL HC job to open. Then again, that feels like a lateral move despite the high profile it gives his brand. For at least this season it seems that Nelson/Fleming will stay bosom buddies.
Congratulations to Rocky Thompson and his appointment to the Edmonton Oilers. As an assistant in the minors he did some incredible work, and I think that a portion of the Barons’ success is largely due to his critique of game footage. He will be a huge asset wherever he goes, and this is a fantastic celebratory graduation of an “original Baron”. Well done, Rocky. You will be missed.