Eakins opts for Rocky road on Oilers coaching staff
Thompson will be Oilers’ eye-in-the-sky during games
EDMONTON - Rocky Thompson will be the Edmonton Oilers’ eye-in-the-sky this season.
Head coach Dallas Eakins is bringing in the Oklahoma City Barons assistant coach to join his NHL staff. Thompson, 36, will be in the press box for games, hooked up to the bench to relay messages, while associate coach Keith Acton and newly hired assistant Craig Ramsay will be beside Eakins.
Thompson and Ramsay are replacing Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith. Smith moved on to Carolina, where he’ll work with new Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters. Buchberger had an offer from an Eastern Conference team to be an assistant, but is staying with the Oilers’ organization in player personnel.
Thompson, who played 591 rugged professional games (25 in the NHL) over 10 years on the blue-line, has been Todd Nelson’s assistant for four years in Oklahoma City. He was also an Edmonton Oil Kings assistant coach in the Western Hockey League from 2007-10.
In his last days as a player, he was with the Oilers’ American Hockey League farm team when it was based in Edmonton in 2004-05. He also won the Calder Cup with Martin St. Louis when they played for the Calgary Flames’ farm team in Saint John, N.B., in the late 1990s.
Thompson threw his hat in the ring for the vacant Bakersfield Condors job in the ECHL, but he wanted an NHL shot.
“When Steve Smith left, I called up (former Barons general manager and now Oilers assistant GM) Bill Scott and asked if I could apply,” said Thompson, who spent most nights with the Barons in the press box for the first two periods before coming down to the bench, so this NHL job won’t be any different.
He would pre-scout every opposing AHL team, looked at their systems, and also had a hand in the special teams with fellow assistant Gerry Fleming.
Thompson loved working with Nelson and Fleming, saying they were like family. He learned a ton and definitely wants to be a head coach some day, but he also says “my goal was to get to the National Hockey League.” In whatever capacity.
“I told Dallas in our interview that my priority was to come here and be part of his hockey team ... I want to be a piece of the puzzle,” said Thompson.
Eakins said he “kicked a lot of tires” looking for a third coach, but Thompson “blew his socks off in the interview.”
“Rocky had a lot of supporters ... I trust Todd Nelson with my life. Rocky’s well-respected and was a really good teacher in Oklahoma City,” said Eakins, who wanted some younger blood to go with Acton and Ramsay, whom he jokingly said had “200 years of experience.”
“A guy really hungry and closer to the players’ age,” Eakins explained. “We wanted a guy who would feel comfortable being upstairs. It’s a tougher role not being on the bench, but Rocky had no reservations.
“You have to wear a lot of different hats when you’re up there ... you’ve got to know the other team’s systems inside and out and exploit them and you have to give us heads-up on our own individuals if we’re not seeing something. He’ll be involved in all our special teams, he’ll run meetings, he’ll handle practices on off-days.”
Eakins bounced around the minor leagues as Thompson did, but they were never on the same team.
“He chased me around. I had to stay faster to stay away from Rocky,” Eakins quipped.
“I chased a lot of guys. Nothing personal,” Thompson said with a laugh.
Thompson still has a house in Sherwood Park, spending eight weeks here in the summer when he has his Rocky Hockey School, starting with six-year-olds and up, at Millennium Place.
“That’s real coaching with those guys,” he said.
ON THE BENCH: The Oilers re-signed two farmhand forwards, Tyler Pitlick and Curtis Hamilton, to one-year, two-way contracts, likely for their qualifying offers of $850,000 ... Fred Chabot will be back as goalie coach with his sidekick, Sylvain Rodrique, slipping down to Oklahoma City and the Oilers’ ECHL farm team at Bakersfield, Calif., to watch the prospects.
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