Danish side Aalborg Pirates may be making their first ever visit to Fife Ice Arena for this weekend’s Bay Hotel Challenge Cup, but the same cannot be said for their head coach.
Paul Thompson is no stranger to the ‘old barn’ having visited many times over a 30-year career in ice hockey as both as a player and coach.
He is also a close friend of Flyers associate player-coach, Danny Stewart, whom he coached for four years during the pair’s Coventry Blaze days.
After 14 years with the Blaze, including a stint as Great Britian head coach, ‘Thommo’ took his coaching talents to Scandanavia last year.
He spent last season in the Swedish Allsvenskan with Troja-Ljundy before taking up the reins at Aalborg this summer.
The 49-year-old Englishman is looking forward to bringing his young team over for what is sure to be a competitive weekend of hockey.
“I’ve got my family all coming up for the weekend so it will be good to come back,” he told the Press.
“We have a very young team and for a lot of the guys it will be their first visit to the UK.
“They are very much looking forward to coming to Fife and seeing that part of Scotland.
“We’re very pleased Tom Muir and the Fife board have invested in us coming over to play these games.”
Thompson is particularly looking forward to re-visiting one of his favourite ice hockey venues.
“It’s a great old rink full of history and tradition and they’ve always played a good skating game up there,” he said.
“I expect it will get a little rowdy in there. It’s a place I’ve always enjoyed going to because of the atmosphere and the banter.
“I get called an English so-and-so, but I’ve no problem with that. I quite like it!
“I’m old school - it’s not always about shiny brand new arenas.
“Yes, they’re nice and comfortable, but the Fife arena smells of history - and the stovies are good as well.”
Aalborg are already four weeks into their pre-season preparations and will have played four exhibition games by the time they arrive in Fife.
“We’ll maybe be slightly ahead in terms of sharpness,” Thompson explained.
“But we only have six imports in our team - the rest are all young Danish guys.
“One of the reasons I wanted to bring my guys across to Fife is because they believe in their indigenous players - not just their imports - and that’s very big in Denmark.
“It’s a shame that four of our youngest players won’t be coming over because they are away with the U20 and U18 national teams.
“They are very talented and it would have shown the 16 and 17-year-olds in Fife the level they can be at.”
Thomson has tasted great victories and sore defeats in Fife in the past but he stressed that this weekend is not about results.
“It’s never good losing to the Scottish but what we want to get out of this weekend is progression,” he insisted.
“Results are not important it’s how we do collectively and individually.
“As much as I’d like to beat Danny Stewart and the Fife Flyers, that’s now what we’re coming for.
“Fife have grown over the last three years and they are going in the right direction.
“I like the look of their roster but the most important thing is the improvement in their British players.
“We expect two very good competitive games.”
Players to look out for in the Aalborg line-up include centreman David Brine, a former NHLer with the Florida Panthers and highly-rated Latvian netminder Ervins Mustokovs, formerly of Sheffield Steelers.
The Danes main weapon, however is their depth as they will be bringing a 22-man roster including eight D-man and 12 forwards.
“The Danish league is similar to the Elite League but its faster and the teams have more depth,” Thomson said.
“The big difference I see in Europe is that the conditioning of the players is of a higher level than in the UK.
“The off-ice work is five or six times what is done back hime.
“The big thing young players in the UK need to realise is that it’s not just about ice time.
“We have no ice from April until August but it doesn’t mean the players stop working.
“We have two strength and conditioning coaches who work with the players before they go onto the ice.
“We’ll have a team work out whether it’s in the weight room, on the running track or stretching - they all have individual programmes to follow.
“It’s very much a full-time job in Europe with the focus on strength, power and speed.
“It’s a different mentality and something that Britain has to change to get better.”