It’s not been the easiest of seasons for Paul Thompson. After a disappointing start with the Sheffield Steelers (who have continued their struggles in his absence, currently locked in a tight battle for playoff spots), he moved on from the EIHL and moved back to mainland Europe, landing in the German town of Villingen-Schwenningen as the new Head Coach of the Schwenninger Wild Wings who were propping up the DEL at the time of his appointment in last place.
Since his appointment in early November, not too much has changed with his new side despite some impressive performances.
In his debut with Schwenninger, he opened his account with a shock win against Red Bull Munich, who are currently challenging to win their fourth straight DEL title, thanks to an overtime winner from Finnish winger Ville Korhonen, which sparked an impressive start for Thompson, winning his first three contests, going on to win four of his first five games.
Despite the strong start under their new coach, the Wild Wings are still in last place of the top tier of German hockey, but since their return from the DEL 2 in time for the 2013-14 season after a 10-year absence, they’ve consistently finished near or at the bottom of the standings, apart from last season where their 10th place finish saw them enter the playoff qualifiers for the first time eventually losing in the wildcard against Grizzlys Wolfsburg.
This year has been another tough year for the side, but since the arrival of Paul Thompson they have shown signs of being competitive in the DEL.
When Thompson joined the side they had just two wins in their opening 17 games, and while things haven’t changed too much for the Wild Wings since, with 16 wins from 45 games at this point, they have closed the gap on the teams above them, just two points behind the Iserlohn Roosters and Grizzlys Wolfsburg who occupy the 12th and 13th spot respectively, but will not face relegation with that system set to be re-introduced to the DEL in time for 2020/21, the first time since the 2005/06 season where there will be promotion and relegation between the DEL and DEL 2 (where former Panthers coach Corey Neilson is currently).
With not much time left on the season, Thompson will need to use the remaining seven games to try and make a late surge up the table, preparing to go at it again next year as the club have recently extended his contract through the 2019/20 season.
Schwenninger did get off to a winning start on the season, winning their opening game against the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers 3 – 2, but before the arrival of Paul Thompson and his first game on November 15th, the club had a measly 2-15-2 record, including an 11 game losing streak that began on just their second game of the season.
Since the arrival of Thompson, while their league positioning hasn’t budged, they have caught up to the rest of the pack with 14 wins and 14 losses, but Thompson is currently sporting an 100% success ratio in games that go to overtime and beyond, winning all six of his contests that have gone past regulation, and also has a winning record against the top two sides in the league.
Adler Mannheim currently sit top of the table, and despite the league leaders taking a 4 – 0 win over the Wild Wings in the teams last meeting, Schwenninger took victories the first two times they faced them under their new coach, and also have beaten Red Bull Munich twice in two meetings to continue an impressive season under the former EIHL coach as he looks to revitalise the organisation.
In the teams first 17-games they were averaging just 1.52 goals for, and 3.47 goals against, being shut out and held off the scoresheet in six of those opening games. Since then the team has seen an improvement in goal scoring to 2.42 goals per game, while there has been a slight improvement the other way dropping to 3.03 goals against per game.
Going up against the big clubs in the DEL was always going to be a huge ask of Schwenninger, with no huge fire power in their offensive ranks compared to some around the league. Mirko Höfflin leads the team in points with 26 on the year, which doesn’t even crack the top 50 in the league, and with just one player with over 10 goals in French forward Anthony Rech, it’s clear that Thompson will have a busy summer to try and bolster all areas of his team, particularly after the recent loss of Stefano Giliati to Swiss side Langnau and Vili Sopanen to Lukko in Finland, and with rumours of his leading scorer Höfflin and also defenseman Dominik Bittner departing in the summer.
Featured image credit – Sigwart – www.schwarzwaelder-bote.de