Welcome to the 1-on-1 “Face-Off” segment here on Murph On Ice – where we bring you Murph’s conversations on a regular basis with some of the best hockey minds in the business!
Murph had the pleasure of chatting with a huge driving force for UK hockey, an accomplished coach, and National Team leader for this feature. Enjoy his interview with Paul Thompson.
Paul Thompson has been the Head Coach of the Coventry Blaze since the clubs’ inception. He became a co-owner of the team in 2004. Thompson is also the National Head Coach of Team GB.
Murph On Ice – Great to talk to you coach, thanks for taking the time from Coventry to join me here on the website!
Paul Thompson– My pleasure Murph, thanks for having me on!
MOI – As a Head Coach in the Elite League, what are the biggest challenges you face in keeping the product on the ice in Coventry at the highest level possible year in year out?
PT – We have big challenges here as we at times are a victim of our success. We have won the Elite League title in four of the last seven years but are coming off a poor season last year. The big challenges are we have to compete against teams with way bigger arenas, and the expectancy here is rightly very high, but we work very hard both on and off the ice to maintain a good quality team with the same expectations. Because of our overall success, last years’ results have not helped this season’s gates even though we have a very competitive team that will challenge for trophies. We need to maintain our fan and sponsor base to keep up with the bigger clubs. Over the last 12 years or so we have had a winning programme that players want to be part of, and that is a big help with recruitment and keeping core guys.
MOI – You are also the Head Coach of the GB Men’s team – what are the biggest obstacles you have to compete with some of the other Nations at the World level? Any favourite rivalry?
PT – We do not stop for IIHF breaks here in the UK, so I only get to work with the team for 3-5 days prior to heading out for the World Championships at the end of our regular season. We are up against teams that have up to a month camp prior to the Worlds and meet up for games and tournaments three times a year during the regular season. So you can see there what we are up against. Over the last four years we have been competing for a medal, prior to that the team was playing relegation games. The programme has come a long way, but to take it to the next level we need more funding and commitment from the set up over here. Clubs and the governing body need to put more resources in to the National programme. We were seven minutes away from a Gold Medal in the Ukraine last spring and won a Silver medal just missing out on pool ‘A’ promotion. In recent years ourselves and Poland have built up a great rivalry.
MOI– When you look back on your storied time in hockey in the UK what would be your top three moments?
PT – I’d have to say that the Grand Slam in 2004-2005 is right up there! Also being appointed GB Head Coach, and the Silver in Ukraine last year. Lastly I’d say being League Champions in 2009-2010 was special.
MOI – Of all the guys you coached or coached against in the Elite league who are the top three to ever play hockey on UK ice? Why?
PT – Tough one there, Dan Carlson played for me for six years, he was our engine room, never took a night off. Neal Martin, most committed D-man, played for me for six years, and had passion and fire every night. And of course Theo Fleury, for a guy to come here with what he won in the NHL, and play like his life depended on it every night, that was why he did what he did overall in hockey.
MOI – You are one of the longest serving coaches of any sport in Europe! What do you credit your longevity to in your success in Coventry?
PT – Winning! Simple as that, I totally understand why I’m still here. Also I have a big part of building a club from the bottom level of hockey here to the top. But make no mistake, coaches only stay in jobs if they’re successful. My passion to win now is still as great as it was when I started 18 years ago.
MOI– When you look ahead to future World Championships, how far can the GB Men’s senior team progress up the world rankings?
PT – All depends on how far we are backed. We have the players here now, and coming up through to get in the top tier of World hockey. We need support in getting there, then of course staying there.
MOI – The fans in Coventry are a passionate bunch! What’s the hockey community like overall there?
PT – Our fans are fantastic as are all of the fans here in the UK. They support their teams through thick and thin but it’s a close knit hockey community, and we are lucky to have these quality people who follow us all.
MOI – And finally, how has the season been thus far, and what can Blaze fans expect the rest of way in this campaign?
PT – We have been a little inconsistent, but we are young and rebuilding a new core for the future. On our day we are the best team in the league, but being a champion is about finding ways to win on a nightly basis, something we are learning to do. I have a committed bunch who I push hard and I really enjoy working with this group. We will
develop over the season and I really do feel we have a good chance of Silverware.
MOI – Thanks again Thommo, this has been a pleasure! Good luck the rest of the way this season.
PT – No problem Murph, my pleasure! Speak to you soon.
“Face-Off” is a regular feature here on Murph On Ice. Keep an eye out for Murph’s next 1-on-1 as he continues to bring insight from the greatest hockey minds around.
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