Thompson Choice ‘Safe’, Underwhelming
Sheffield may have brought to a close one of the clumsiest coaching changes in EIHL history, but it’s hardly the ground breaking appointment the Steelers PR machine might have hinted towards.
Bringing Paul Thompson in to the fold is a ‘safe’ move. He knows the lie of the EIHL land, and has had success here before.
It also means the insular nature of the British game remains insular – bringing back one of its own rather than pushing the envelope.
Previous incumbent Gerad Adams was dismissed despite securing playoff and league titles during his brief tenure with the club – the narrative largely coming back to the idea that the Steelers brass didn’t feel Adams had the chops to help move the club forward domestically or in the Champions Hockey League next season.
With the somewhat ham fisted introduction of an under 20 league (required to meet IIHF criteria for World Championship entry), an additional string was added to the bow Adams successor was expected to wield.
Enter Thompson, who did indeed have great success for a period with Coventry and helped get the national program regain some semblance of respectability.
But his finally three years with the Blaze were somewhat less inspiring, his record of developing young players somewhat questionable and comparisons to Chuck Weber – whose efforts in Coventry last season were cited as one of the reasons Sheffield reconsidered their view of what they want in a Head Coach/Manager – are not entirely favourable for the 50-year old.
Weber came with AHL and KHL experience – and while Thompson may be the first prominent British coach to head abroad, his stints in the Allsvenskan and Danish League were largely unremarkable.
Is it unfair to draw these comparisons? Maybe. Horses for courses and so forth – but when you openly admit another club’s coach has inspired you to change your own, Sheffield had already set up Adams replacement for a ‘head-to-head’ with the American.
A mix of cynicism and optimism surrounds the deal – understandably – but in a press release that contained quotes from Steeler’s owner Tony Smith like “I want the Steelers to have a long term plan” and “I believe Paul has the experience and expertise to deliver that requirement long term” a 2-year deal seems somewhat against that grain.
Two years may be a long time in a sport that lives from season-to-season more often than not, but when we’re talking long term plans and developing players it’s no time at all.
But then that seems to be the crux of this move. A solid, safe selection of a coach already ‘in’ with the clubs brass. Someone who will turn out a decent side on the ice, probably be competitive and will churn out a lot of quality sound bites.
But what was seemingly billed as a revolution for the club is little more than a step to the right at this point.
Thompson honed his craft with the Blaze, learned by his mistakes, loves the British game (one thing you can never question is his passion for the sport) and many other laudable qualities – but he did it all within the broken confines of the British game.
If Sheffield really wanted to break the mould, set the standard, they wouldn’t hand the keys to someone who already knows the road here – you find someone who’ll tear up and rebuild that road – and the car along with it.
Thompson now has the chance to demonstrate his previous comments on dropping import limits and fixing development structures were more than just bluster; but given his past history in the league, you’d be forgiven for being cynical about the whole thing.
Thompson is not the mechanic Sheffield, the EIHL and the British game need – but maybe he is the one they deserve.