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Rocky Thompson’s Fearless Attitude Toward Pulling The Goalie

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Chicago Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson is known as a cerebral manager of the game. However, sometimes smart and risky are considered synonyms in the game of hockey.

In Game 3 of the AHL Western Conference Finals, Thompson made a move he’s made many times during the regular season, but one that would be considered incredibly aggressive in today’s NHL.

With 4:15 left on the clock trailing by two goals, Thompson pulled Oscar Dansk from the Wolves goal leaving an empty net. 45 seconds later Chicago scored their second goal of the game to cut the lead to one. Thompson placed Dansk back in the net for the next 90 seconds before once again pulling him just outside of the two-minute mark.

It’s playoff time and we needed two goals. It’s the coaches decision and I think he made the right call. It ended up getting us a goal and we had some opportunities after it. -Tye McGinn

To the Wolves, this is perfectly normal. In fact, the four players I asked about it all seemed to have the same type of response; something along the lines of “why wouldn’t we do that?” But, in the NHL, only 31 times this entire season (there are 1272 games in an NHL season) did a head coach remove their goalie from the net prior to 4:15 left on the clock.

In this case, it didn’t work, but it definitely helped give the Wolves a better chance, which is really all you can ask for.

We were two goals down so we had to get one quick and that’s what we did. Obviously pulling the goalie with five minutes it’s a big responsibility for us to play the right way and score a goal. It’s disappointing it didn’t work the second time, but we should have scored earlier to not force us to do that. -Tomas Hyka

It’s a philosophy Thompson has deployed all season. One time earlier in the year, he pulled the goalie with 15 minutes left in the game down by three goals. He went on to pull the goalie three more times in that same game and the Wolves cut the lead to one with more than a minute left on the clock. Another time Thompson pulled the goalie an a 4-on-4 situation to “manufacture a power play.” No matter what though, he’s shown a consistent aggressiveness to pulling the goalie, one he stands behind.

When you do research you kind of see that this might be something that you can do to help your team win, so that’s kind of how we view it. I hate giving up in a game, so if we lose 6-2 or 7-2 it doesn’t matter to me. -Rocky Thompson

He says his players like it too…for the most part.

Well it depends, it’s a yin and yang, if you get caught out there and you get scored on it’s a minus, but they don’t like giving up either. -Thompson

The question is can this style of aggressiveness translate to the NHL. Whether that is whenever Thompson gets the chance, or Gerard Gallant taking a page out of his book to try it in Vegas.

I’m not sure if it translates to the NHL, you’ve got to make different decisions with your personnel and who you are playing, there are a lot of tough decisions. -Thompson

It’s certainly something to think about at any level of hockey because the fact is, a team has a better chance to score a goal if they have more players on the ice, even if it also increases their chances to let one in.

Maybe Patrick Roy was on to something. Unfortunately, he wasn’t exactly the poster child needed for the early goalie pull, though it had little to nothing to do with the goalie pull decisions.

Rocky Thompson may just be.


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  1. Gary Thompson

    So when does Vegas get it’s more western AHL team?

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