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.
“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.”