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Rocky III: The Coaching Tree

It’s not hard to draw a direct line from John Anderson, the most successful coach in Chicago Wolves history, to new Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson.

In 2006, Anderson hired Todd Nelson to be his top assistant with the Wolves. After two seasons in Chicago – capped by the Calder Cup championship earned on June 10, 2008, at Allstate Arena – Anderson took Nelson with him when hired to coach the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers.

After two seasons together in Atlanta, Nelson was more than ready to run an AHL team and the Oklahoma City Barons offered the opportunity to be their first coach in 2010. Who did Nelson hire to be on his staff? Rocky Thompson.

Todd Nelson hoists the Calder Cup after Grand Rapids championship victory. Photo by Mark Newman

They coached together for four years at Oklahoma City – making two runs to the Western Conference Finals – and then spent most of 2014-15 together when Nelson served most of that season as the Edmonton Oilers’ interim coach.

So when you’re wondering what type of coach Thompson happens to be, it’s fair to use Nelson as a barometer. On Tuesday night, Nelson hoisted the Calder Cup again after directing the Grand Rapids Griffins to the 2017 AHL title.

Thompson’s coaching influences are the subject in this Rocky III Q-and-A:

Q: Did you watch Game 6 of the Calder Cup?

A: “Oh, yes. Huge win. Nelly’s the best.”

Q: How would you characterize your relationship?

A: “He and I are like brothers. He’s a big influence on my career.”

Q: When you retired from playing in 2007 (with the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen), you went straight into coaching with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. Did you know all along that you wanted to be a coach…or did you happen to fall into it?

A: “I just love the game and love competition. When I was playing, I started to pay attention to the coaches and asked a lot of questions. When I joined the Oilers organization, they had a number of coaches who were great people and really kind to me and willing to help me.”

Action from the championship game at the 2017 MasterCard Memorial Cup between the Erie Otters and Windsor Spitfires at WFCU Centre in Windsor, ON on Sunday May 28, 2017. Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images

Q: While reading coverage of your Windsor Spitfires’ run to the Memorial Cup title, you had a quote where you referenced Corsi rating. Not every coach does that. Are you big into the metrics?

A: “I’m not stubborn. I want every competitive advantage I can get. I don’t think it’s one thing over another – I think it’s both the eye test and the advanced stats. I just want to win. I want to be the best.”

Q: What’s your plan for the assistant coaching positions?

A: I’m putting together a list right now. I’m really looking forward to getting started.”

Header image credit: Getty Images