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Thompson looks to push Avs to next level



Don’t expect inexperience to be an issue for the newest head coach of the Ontario Avalanche.

After a 13-year pro career that included over four years in the American Hockey League, Jamie Thompson entered the 2015-16 Western States Hockey League (WSHL) season in an unfamiliar position – at the helm of the Avalanche in the first head-coaching gig of his life.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity to be here,” said the 41-year-old Thompson. “I feel good behind the bench. Since I stopped playing, I’ve taken every opportunity I could to coach in some capacity, and that’s really helped me get to where I’m at right now.

“But I’ve also been on a bench since I was 6 years old, so I’m pretty comfortable back there.”

While new to the head coaching position, Thompson was able to familiarize himself with the Avalanche and the WSHL last year after coming on board with former head coach Chris Shaw’s staff in late February.

Thompson says the opportunity to feel out the league down the stretch and into last season’s playoffs provided a great reference point as to what the WSHL and the Avalanche were all about.

“(Shaw) really helped me get in with the group of kids we had, and we really made some progress at the end of the year,” said Thompson, who inherits a club that went 25-15-4-2 last season and finished fourth in the league’s Western Division.

“I think that was a major reason why I was kept on and why (team owner) Tom Meyer gave me a shot to get behind the bench this season. The guys who were here understand my message and understand where I’m coming from.

“We have aspirations to push this franchise to a higher level, and I believe we’re moving in the right direction.”

It’s been an impressive start to the season for the Avalanche, who opened up the year 5-1 in its first six games, but Thompson cautions that his squad is still a long ways from where he needs them to be.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Thompson. “We found a way to get two points out of the season-opener – and I’m never going to be upset about that – but our execution, work ethic and responsibilities all need to be tightened up – and they will be.

“It’s a long process, but we have a great group of guys here and a great group of leaders and everyone holds each other accountable. Whenever you have a group like that, it’s my job as head coach to give them the message and they’ll do the rest.”

With so many new faces in the mix – the Avalanche lost its top seven scorers from last season – Thompson may be leaning on returning defensemen like Martin Carlsson (six goals for 15 points in 41 games last year) and Sebastian Keskitalo (two assists in 12 games), as well as goaltender Daniel Cepila (11-5-1-2 record to compliment a 2.32 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage), but says the Avalanche will have success this season by embracing a team mentality.

“We haven’t put any enormous amount of pressure on any one guy,” said Thompson. “We’re really trying to drive home the concept of team. As long as everyone does their small part, the job gets done and everybody’s happy. That’s maybe a utopian society, but when it’s working it works well.”

Thompson is well aware of how competitive the Western Division is going to be this season, but is confident in his ability to get the most out of the Avalanche, citing the example set by the defending division champs – the Fresno Monsters.

“We play in a really hard division,” said Thompson. “Consistency in our play is the biggest thing. We need to win the games we’re supposed to win and give ourselves the opportunity to win games on a nightly basis just by being simple.

“When you look at a team like Fresno, they play as a team every single year, so it comes as no surprise they’re consistently one of the top teams in this league. They get guys to buy in; the coaching staff has a plan and the players buy into that plan.

“That’s what we’re putting into place here, and when we do that, good things are going to happen.”

– John B. Spigott