Shockers Snap Up Thompson to be Bench Boss

Michigan Gray Wolves assistant coach Morris Thompson has been one of the most sought-after SHL head coaching candidates for the last two seasons.  The Washington Galaxy reportedly gave serious consideration to hiring Thompson to replace Rodney Reagle.  After the Galaxy opted for Peter James instead, the Saskatchewan Shockers wasted no time in tabbing Thompson as their next coach.

Morris Thompson

“Behold!” exclaimed Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz as he introduced Thompson.  “If there was such a thing as a Coachinator, this guy would be it!”

Over the last several seasons, the Shockers have gone from being the joke of the SHL to a young team on the rise.  As the team’s progressed seemed to stall in the 2018 season, however, Doofenshmirtz and the front office decided that change was in order.  They fired Myron Beasley, the only coach the team had ever had, in midseason.  Assistant coach Caleb Ponder was appointed as the interim head man, but was never seriously considered for the long-term job and was dismissed at the end of the season.

Reportedly, the Shockers were seeking a coach who would impose a firmer hand on discipline than either Beasley or Ponder, as well as someone who help the team take the next leap to become a contender.  When seeking a model for the kind of organization they wanted to build, they kept coming back to the Wolves and coach Ron Wright as a model.  “Michigan is everything we want to be: disciplined, hard-working, willing to do whatever it takes to win,” said Saskatchewan GM Connor Matthews.  “So why not go get one of the guys who helped build that?”

The 39-year-old Thompson started out playing for Wright and built a reputation as a grinding fourth-line winger.  After a shattered kneecap ended his playing career a decade ago, Wright suggested that Thompson get into coaching, and he’s been on Wright’s staff ever since.  In the SHL, Thompson followed Wright from Hamilton to Michigan.

“Everything I know about coaching, I learned from Coach Wright,” Thompson said.  “He taught me what it really means to work hard and be prepared.  He taught me that championships are won in practice, when a team commits itself to be all in.  He taught me that a coach can’t ask his players to make the sacrifices they need to win if he’s not willing to make those same sacrifices himself.  He taught me that hard work and sweat trumps raw talent every time.  That’s the culture I plan to bring here.”

Like Wright, Thompson is regarded as a defensive specialist.  With Saskatchewan, he will be working to strengthen a strength; the Shockers’ 2.71 GAA was good for fifth in the league.  Where they fell down was on offense, as they converted only 8% of their shots and outscored only the expansion teams in Kansas City and Boston.  Critics of the hire wonder if Thompson has the skill set to jump-start Saskatchewan’s sluggish offense.

“There’s nothing wrong with this team’s ability to create shots,” said Thompson.  “The problem is that too many of them are one-timers and slappers from way out, and any good goalie can stop those.  We need the ability to follow up.  We need to strengthen our net-front presence, get into the dirty areas where we might be able to get a deflection or rebound or take the goalie’s eyes away.  Work hard and be physical.”

The expectations are high for Thompson and the Shockers, as Matthews made clear.  “We know that champions aren’t built overnight,” the GM said.  “But we aren’t afraid to set that expectation.  The goal is not just to get a little better or be respectable.  We’re building to a championship.  That’s the goal, nothing less.”

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Galaxy Pick James as New Coach

The Washington Galaxy surprised a number of observers around the league when they fired coach Rodney Reagle, who had guided the team to a pair of Finals appearances in four seasons.  After the surprising dismissal of Reagle, the team made an unsurprising choice for his replacement, tapping Oshawa Drive coach Peter James to take over the bench next season.

Peter James

“When we looked for our next coach, we had several criteria in mind,” said Galaxy GM Ace Adams.  “We wanted a coach who was professional and dedicated.  We wanted someone who was firm but not overbearing, someone who was serious but not too straitlaced, someone who could help mentor younger players while also relating well to veterans.  We wanted someone who was comfortable with the demands of a bigger market, but wouldn’t be looking to grab headlines.  Peter met all of our criteria.”

Several of those criteria could be interpreted as a veiled shot at Reagle, who had a well-earned reputation as the SHL’s clown prince.  He was well known for wearing costumes on the bench and frequently dropping movie quotes and offbeat accents into his press conferences.  These antics made Reagle a colorful and popular character, but team sources say the front office and some players found his behavior childish and that owner Perry Dodge felt the coach was too easy with the players.

James represents a virtual 180-degree change in personality from Reagle.  The 55-year-old Kitchener native has a reputation as for being serious and mild-mannered; one Oshawa player described James as having “milk running through his veins.”

The coach confirmed the accuracy of his reputation at his introductory press conference.  “If you’re expecting a lot of memorable quotes out of me, well, you’ll be disappointed,” said James.  “I’m always willing to talk to the press, but my plan is to keep my head down and do my job.”

Those who might equate James’ politeness and lack of flair with meekness or weakness, however, are mistaken.  He demonstrated this in Oshawa last season when he physically repelled an opposing defender who attempted to climb onto the Drive’s bench and start a fight.  Asked about this incident, James said, “My first instinct to protect my players, always.  I’m not a fighter, but I’m also not a pushover.”

James will face a challenge navigating an aging roster that lost key contributor Walt Camernitz to free agency last season and may see #1 goaltender Roger Orion depart this offseason.  “I would really like to see us re-sign Roger,” James said.  “He’s a really top-notch goalie.”

The new bench boss will also have some work to do in the clubhouse, whose chemistry reportedly went south during the Galaxy’s second-half swan dive, when they went 11-20-1 to finish below .500 for the first time in team history.  “Obviously, losing makes things tough on everybody,” James said.  “But even during tough times, if you put the right foundation in place, the team will hold together.”

The team reportedly didn’t interview many candidates for the vacancy.  The team is known to have also spoken to former assistant coach Herman Chambers and Michigan assistant Morris Thompson.  Sources say that the front office was torn between James and Thompson; the latter’s reputation for building stout defenses was appealing.

It was James’ calm demeanor, Adams said, that put him over the top.  “The longer we talked to Peter, the more I noticed how calm and confident he was, no matter what questions I threw at him,” said the Galaxy GM.  “He was so calm that he made me feel calmer just listening to him.  And I knew this was the guy to guide us through good times and bad.”

As for Washington’s ex-coach, it appears unlikely that Reagle will find himself behind a bench this season.  The only remaining open SHL job is with the Saskatchewan Shockers, who are said to be looking for a disciplinarian.  Reagle said that he was open to a job in broadcasting, but “if I wind up spending the season at home with my wife, sipping lemonade and cashing checks, I’m okay with that too.  I’m not sure if she will be, though.”