The Albert Lea Thunder has announced that Paul Willett has been named the team’s first head coach, with Brian Murphy serving as the assistant coach.
“We’re very excited to have Paul and Brian as part of our inaugural team here with the Thunder,” Thunder director of hockey operations Jim Perkins said. “They’ll be heavily involved in the success of the team on the ice, developing our players to one day play at the collegiate level.
“They both have a wealth of experience and are a perfect fit for what we want to accomplish here with the Thunder.”
Willett brings 16 years of coaching experience to the Thunder, having spent most of that time developing players in Minnesota. In addition, he also operated Paul Willett International Hockey Training, offering training to players, coaches, teams and associations where he helped develop thousands of players and coaches over the last seven years.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity,” said Willett. “I look forward to the challenge of putting together a competitive first-year team, but more importantly helping develop those young men in hopes of moving them on in their hockey careers.”
Willett has also been a featured speaker at many USA Hockey clinics and seminars on the topics of skating, skill development, small-area games and coaching philosophy. His coaching experience extends past Minnesota, where he is slated to coach at the Select 17 camp this summer.
Murphy also brings a resume loaded with hockey experience. As a player, he was a member of St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall High School varsity team for three years, earning All-Conference honors while participating in the Great Eight Festival.
Post high school, Murphy skated for the Danville Wings NAHL before playing college hockey at Saint Mary's University.
As a coach, Murphy has spent most of his career in his hometown of St. Paul, most recently coaching the Wisconsin Fire. His accomplishments have not gone unnoticed, as he was selected as one of the Minnesota/USA Hockey Select 15 & Under coaches and was a chosen as one of the coaches for this year’s 1990/89 USHL Central Scouting Showcase held in Chicago.
Murphy also has several years experience developing players during the off-season through various individual skills developmental programs, including being an instructor for Mike Foley's St. Paul Academy's Summer Camp and as a director/instructor. For the past two years, Murphy has also worked as a scout for the Washington Capitals and the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers.
The Thunder also announced the hiring of Steve Strasheim as the team’s sales manager. Prior to joining the Thunder, Strasheim spent five seasons with the Fargo-Moorhead Jets, the last of which he served as general manager. Strasheim brings a strong knowledge of operations and management and will oversee the front office of the Thunder.
“I’m very excited to be a part of this organization,” said Strasheim. “The support the community has already shown makes me confident we’re going to be a premier team in this league.”
More announcements regarding the Thunder will be made in the coming weeks, including season-ticket information, player housing, tryouts, sponsorships and the schedule.