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Former NHL Center Nate Thompson Brings Plenty of ‘Skills’ to New Coaching Role

Former NHL Center Nate Thompson Brings Plenty of ‘Skills’ to New Coaching Role

Nate Thompson (44) of the Anaheim Ducks in action against the Calgary Flames in Game Three of the Western Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on April 17, 2017. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

9/30/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

0

Nate Thompson skated for nine NHL teams, including the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, during a 19-year professional hockey career that culminated with his retirement announcement in July.
Given that, the mere three seasons he spent with the Ducks from 2014–17 might not seem particularly noteworthy or memorable.
Oh, but they are.
It was during the latter stages of Mr. Thompson’s time in Anaheim, while he was rehabilitating from Achilles tendon surgery, that he made the life-changing decision to get sober.
“It honestly saved my life,” Mr. Thompson told The Epoch Times. “It saved my career, saved a lot of things. I’m a better person for it. That’s for sure.”
Mr. Thompson, who is set to turn 39 on Oct. 5, has spoken publicly on multiple previous occasions about his recovery from a lengthy substance abuse history.
Realizing full well that his story can be tremendously valuable to others, he had no qualms discussing the matter again as he begins a new chapter as a skills coach with the American League’s Ontario Reign.
The job title is somewhat ironic because the Anchorage, Alaska, native was never among hockey’s more skilled players, collecting modest totals of 73 goals and 112 assists in 930 career NHL regular-season and Stanley Cup playoff games. The valuable role he carved out was mostly as a reliable third- or fourth-line center and dependable faceoff man who won 53.2 percent of his 9,147 career draws.
The definition of skills, though, can go far beyond skating, stickhandling, and shooting pucks.
“In today’s game, it’s not about hockey sometimes,” Reign Coach Marco Sturm told The Epoch Times. “Everyone has different issues. New kids, they need help. There are so many things, even away from hockey. This part [of coaching], in the old days it was never there. Thommer is such an important piece for us. He’s going to be a big help in every area you can imagine.”
Head coach Marco Sturm of Germany watches from the sidelines during the Deutschland Cup 2017 match between Germany and USA at Curt-Frenzel-Stadion in Augsburg, Germany, on Nov. 12, 2017. (Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Head coach Marco Sturm of Germany watches from the sidelines during the Deutschland Cup 2017 match between Germany and USA at Curt-Frenzel-Stadion in Augsburg, Germany, on Nov. 12, 2017. (Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images)

A lengthy relationship with Mr. Sturm, who initiated talk with Mr. Thompson about the new job, bookended the latter’s playing career. They were teammates when Mr. Thompson broke into the NHL with the Boston Bruins in 2006–07, and then Mr. Thompson played his final 30 pro games under Mr. Sturm last season for Ontario, the Kings’ AHL affiliate.
Though he hadn’t really thought much about potentially getting into coaching as his playing career wound down, it turned out that Mr. Thompson was gaining some on-the-job training without even realizing it.
While with the Montreal Canadiens from 2018–20, for example, he fulfilled the team’s wish to mentor then-budding star Nick Suzuki, who has gone on to become captain of hockey’s most storied franchise. Then last season, Mr. Thompson served as something of an unofficial player-coach with the Reign.
“I was a line of communication for Marco and the other coaching staff,” Mr. Thompson said. “I was super grateful they gave me the opportunity to step right into something as soon as I was done playing. It made it easy for me.”
Mr. Thompson’s gratitude does not begin to stop there. After all, had he not made the decision he did while with the Ducks, his story would no doubt have taken a dramatically different turn.
Nate Thompson (44) of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the Nashville Predators during the second period in Game Six of the Western Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., on April 25, 2016. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Nate Thompson (44) of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the Nashville Predators during the second period in Game Six of the Western Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., on April 25, 2016. (Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

“I was in a bad spot, a dark place,” he said. “I was going down not a great path. There were some things I needed to address. I did that, and it changed my life. It changed everything, the trajectory of my career, a lot of relationships I had with people. It definitely improved everything in my life.”
As is often the case when people battle demons such as alcohol and drugs, those around them are powerless to impact the situation.
“There were a lot of people who talked to me and wanted me to get help,” Mr. Thompson said. “There were some teammates in Anaheim who talked to me. I’ve had coaches and people along the years who have addressed it to me. I was always in denial and never thought I had an issue. I always kind of thought I had it under control. The person has to want to get help. That was me. You have to get to that point where you can’t take it anymore, and you’re kind of surrendering a little bit. That’s kind of where I was. I was just helpless, I needed help, and I reached out for it.”
If he could offer advice to anyone in a similar situation, Mr. Thompson’s message would be straightforward.
“The biggest part is just reaching out for help,” he said. “If you do that, you’re already going in the right direction.”
NHL player agent Matt Keator has had a front-row seat for nearly the entire journey, having represented Mr. Thompson since early in his career.
“He’s really evolved as a person, maturity-wise and everything,” Mr. Keator told The Epoch Times. “He’s made a difference for many others in hockey and used his story, basically, as a life lesson. He’s very good at working with young people, whether it be players or people with substance-abuse issues or anything. He’s very well-spoken and respected. I’m excited for Nate and the next chapter. He’s someone you always cheer for.”
Entering the coaching profession with what he called “kind of a blind eye because I have no idea what to expect,” Mr. Thompson isn’t sure where things might lead.
Nate Thompson (44) of the Los Angeles Kings makes a breakout pass during the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Dec. 2, 2018. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Nate Thompson (44) of the Los Angeles Kings makes a breakout pass during the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Dec. 2, 2018. (Harry How/Getty Images)

“Who knows? Maybe I want to coach for 30 years, or maybe I move into something else,” he said. “I do know one thing. I’m super happy to be involved in hockey. That’s where I want to be. Right now, I’m going to enjoy myself and try to help all these young guys move on to the next level.”
Despite myriad personal challenges, Mr. Thompson has chosen to accentuate the positives.
“I’m definitely in a good place and life is good, no matter what it throws at me,” he said.
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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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