Eighteen years as a head coach. Seven national league titles (four in the Elite League alone) Four playoff titles (two English League, one British National League, one EIHL) Two Challenge Cups. Three other cups. One glorious treble season. Over 1200 games as a head-coach for Coventry Blaze. Two World Championship medals as Team Great Britain coach.
All of the above statistics belong to one man-Coventry Blaze’s Paul Thompson. He’s been one of the few constants in eighteen years of constant change in British ice-hockey-his suited or tracksuited figure behind the Blaze bench is a silhouette that’s become known to everyone in British hockey as unchanging-a constant like the ebbing and flowing of the tides or the world turning.
He’s stuck beside the Blaze through times of feast and times of famine, screaming, motivating, cajoling and driving feats of athletic excellence out of his players on Skydome ice year after year.
Known for being one of the most straight-talking men in the sport, he’s won everything it’s possible to win in British hockey, accepted every possible word of praise, every accolade.
And more than that, he’s taken a city that knew nothing about the sport of ice-hockey, a sport dominated by a seemingly unshakeable love for football, and turned it into one of the few places in Great Britain that can truly be considered a “hockey town”, and in the process was taken into the hearts of Coventry itself. It seemed that he’d be here for life. To a large degree, Paul Thompson is the personification of Coventry hockey.
Today, just before the end of his eighteenth season, came the announcement that would shake Coventry hockey to its foundations.
Paul Thompson, the man who built Coventry hockey into what it is today on the ice, is stepping down as Blaze head coach.
He’s heading for Sweden, to test himself as head coach of Troja-Ljungby in the Allsvenskan.
And, for the first time in eighteen seasons, the Blaze will have a new man at the helm next season.
This is the event many Blaze fans have been dreading. Thommo leaving was thought by many (and still is) to be the potential first sign of the Apocalypse for Coventry hockey.
And yet, somehow, you can’t help but be happy for the man himself. This is an opportunity Paul Thompson has long deserved. An opportunity he has been offered in the past, but turned down, feeling that he still had things to achieve in Coventry, or for the sake of his family. An opportunity that now, finally, it appears he feels he can seize with both hands.
The Swedish Allsvenskan is a higher-budget, higher-profile league than the EIHL. Skills and salaries may be higher, but so are expectations. It’s the opportunity for a man who has achieved everything he can achieve in British hockey to move on to the next stage in his career, and work his magic on a higher, more glamorous stage.
An opportunity that no-one can begrudge a man who’s given his life so far to British hockey, both as a player and as a coach-and has given the vast majority of it to one team.
There is sadness in Coventry today. But there is also tremendous pride-for finally, the incredible work that Paul Thompson has done here is being rewarded by the wider world of hockey. Finally, the world outside the small, insular world of UK hockey has taken notice.
His efforts have paved the ice of the Skydome with silver for eighteen seasons. Finally, he’s reaping the personal reward of the efforts that have already rewarded his team and UK hockey a million times over and above what he’s received for them.
Now, it’s time for him to take the next step in his career. Time for he and the Blaze, at least on ice, to part ways. Time for a new man to take on the task of keeping the Blaze burning as brightly as the man known to all in British hockey simply as “Thommo”. A new era for both the man, and the club he’s leaving behind.
But until then, there’s still the matter of the Elite League playoffs this season to finish. And the chance for one more Paul Thompson-led celebration in Coventry. Don’t bet against it just yet, either.
Troja-Ljungby fans don’t realise just how lucky they are yet. But they will do.
Thank you for everything you’ve done in Coventry, Thommo, and here’s hoping the hockey gods favour you in your new job.
After all, you’ve earned it.