When Paul Thompson left Coventry Blaze after 14 years in 2013, he wanted a new experience on his coaching CV – he got it.
The former Great Britain Head Coach took his expertise and pitted his wits in two tough European leagues, spending a year in Sweden then a year in Denmark.
As he looks back at the decision that in many ways changed his life, he says it was time for a change after Troja-Ljungby had been sorted out as his next destination.
He said: “The opportunity to move to Sweden was tied up pretty early, so I knew when I was leaving Coventry that’s where I’d be going.
“I enjoyed it at the Blaze in that last season before I left, because we reached the final four with a team that wasn’t the biggest in terms of budget.
“But I needed a move. I’d been in the British league for many, many years and I was going to a place where I really wanted to go and work.
“Sweden has a fabulous hockey culture and it was great to experience how a nation like the Swedes do it on a daily basis. I learned a lot out there.”
Thompson joined Troja as assistant coach to Gunnar Leidborg, but it was a season to forget in many respects.
With 12 games to go, Leidborg left and Thompson stepped up to replace him, with the job of keeping Troja in Sweden’s second tier. It wasn’t to be.
Fighting for their lives, Troja were thrown into the relegation round, needing to finish in the top two spots to stay up.
A loss to Bjorkloven, who finished below them in the regular season standings, consigned them to the drop.
Thompson admits he could have stayed in Sweden for another year, but was keen to move on and do something else.
He added: “Going into a round robin with teams round about you and one or two in the league below is a real pressure situation.
“Hockey is so strong in Sweden and Bjorkloven went on to challenge in the play-off for the SHL the following year, so that tells you the quality is great over there.
“I had the opportunity to stay and signed an Allsvenskan deal to continue, but I didn’t want to get stuck in Division One there (the third tier) and as much as we tried to keep Troja up, it wasn’t to be.
“It was one of those years, but it remains a fabulous experience.”
Thompson moved to Danish side Aalborg Pirates, a team looking to build on their third place league finish and fourth in the play-offs.
A change in direction in terms of the budget meant Thompson had to work more with the local talent as they finished eighth – enough to get them into the play-offs.
However, he believes the Danish Metal Ligaen can be used as a model for the Elite League.
“I enjoyed my time in Denmark and I think it’s a country we should look at in terms of how they develop players,” he said.
“They have only 14 or 15 rinks in the whole country, yet they’re a Pool ‘A’ nation and have players in the NHL – that’s something we could learn a lot from.
“We had a young team in Aalborg after the budget was slashed, so their mindset was to bring through and develop their youth players.
“You’re talking as young as 16 and 17 year olds, but I take nothing away from what I experienced out there and it was a great time.”
After two years in Europe, with no family with him to help him settle it was time to come home, and Thompson was announced as Sheffield Steelers’ boss this summer.
In his two years away he feels he’s learned a lot to take to his current job and wouldn’t rule out another continental move if the right opportunity came along.
He said: “I came home for family reasons and it was time to spend time with the kids, so I was delighted to get the opportunity to take over at Sheffield Steelers.
“I’ve come back a more educated coach for my time away after seeing things a lot differently and I feel I’m a better coach for the experience.
“I’m really happy back in the UK and loving the job I have, but you can never rule out what might happen in the future.
“I’m delighted I got the opportunity to coach where I did, but I’m equally happy to get the chance to coach Sheffield too.”
(Image permission: Dean Woolley)