New Team Canada GM Tambellini brings rich history
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Originally published in the IIHF News Release in 2002
By Lucas Aykroyd
In many ways, Steve Tambellini represents the best of Canadian hockey. So it was hardly surprising when Canadian Hockey introduced him on September 26 as the general manager of the Maple Leaf squad for the 2003 IIHF World Championships in Finland.
The 44-year-old vice-president of player personnel with the Vancouver Canucks was all smiles at the GM Place press conference. Tambellini has good reason to feel upbeat as he pursues this exciting opportunity.
After helping Lanny McDonald steer Team Canada through the 2001 Worlds in Germany, Tambellini knows more about the delights and dangers of that tournament than many veteran NHL general managers. And collaborating with his nation’s greatest hockey minds at the 2002 Olympics proved to be a golden experience.
“Salt Lake was a formula for only one thing: success,” said Tambellini. “Wayne Gretzky and Pat Quinn set a tone. Our group became very powerful.”
Now the question is whether Canada can replicate that potent attitude in the country where it captured its last Worlds gold in 1997. Both the domestic and international media criticized the Canadians for not icing a better team in 2002. Tambellini knows that to avoid another sixth-place finish, he can’t afford to have some 60 NHLers turn down invitations to Finland, as was the case with Sweden.
“Hopefully, I can point to when the players had a chance to see the Olympics and the opportunities that guys like Ryan Smyth enjoyed,” said Tambellini. “Ryan agreed to come to the World Championships in Germany, and he was a young guy who was on our list for consideration for the Olympics. He was an incredible representative for Canada on the ice. It really accelerated his run up the ladder.”
But the issues run deeper. Participating at the IIHF World Championships is more than just a stepping stone to the Olympics. Each year, international hockey prestige is on the line. Getting that message through to the Canadian NHL talent available next April is a challenge Tambellini is ready to embrace.
“Other hockey nations judge their success so much on how they play against the Canadian teams,” Tambellini said. “It always has been that way and it always will be. Would we like to win every year at the World Championships? Absolutely. Sometimes we haven’t had enough weapons to do that. You need a mature group if you expect success. These teams you’re playing have experienced international players who understand that game. So my goal this year is to make sure that we do get the very best players available for Canada.”
To get his countrymen thinking the same way, Tambellini will also encourage NHL general managers to release suitable prospects playing in North America for the Deutschland Cup, Spengler Cup, Sweden Games and Swiss Cup this winter. If he succeeds, it should benefit everyone.
“Experiences at that level of hockey can really progress the development of some of these players,” said Tambellini. “They may be playing in the American Hockey League or on the bubble with their NHL teams. I’m looking for more of a nucleus of players from Canada who will push our European-based talent. We think we can bring back a better player afterwards to his National Hockey League team.”
Tambellini is a man who backs up his words. He has shown he doesn’t believe the Stanley Cup is the be-all and end-all for North American hockey players. He got his name on the cherished silver mug as a young center with the New York Islanders in 1980. But he also ranks his appearances at the 1978 World Juniors, 1981 Worlds and 1988 Olympics among the proudest moments of his career.
“At the World Juniors in Montreal, Wayne Gretzky was only 16 years old when he played with our bronze medal team,” Tambellini reminisced. “Watching a 140-pound young man dazzle the world and lead the tournament in scoring was incredible. Then, those World Championships in Sweden were interesting with Don Cherry as our coach! It was a great experience to play with Lanny McDonald and Larry Robinson and Guy Lafleur in 1981. And representing Canada at the Calgary Olympics was a very emotional experience. I have treated every time when I’ve been asked to participate internationally as a privilege.”
That’s no wonder when you consider his family history. Tambellini’s father Addy was a member of the 1961 Trail Smoke Eaters, the last Canadian amateur team to win gold at the World Championships.
This accomplishment was all the more remarkable coming from a small British Columbia town of around 10,000 inhabitants, dominated by the ore smelting industry. The memory provides an inspiration that drives Steve Tambellini to this day.
“This is something that we grew up with in Trail,” said Tambellini. “International play was a huge part of our life. It was always brought up in the media locally or internationally that my dad’s hockey team was very special, and they were.”
Today, Steve’s son Jeff is carrying on the family tradition in international hockey. The 5-11, 185-pound forward played for Canada’s gold medal team at the 2001 Six Nations U-18 Cup in the Czech Republic.
As an 18-year-old scoring star with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League, Jeff was also honored as Canada’s Junior A Player of the Year for 2002. That’s a great sign. Past winners include Paul Kariya and Mike Comrie, both of whom have represented Canada at the IIHF World Championships.
Steve acknowledges that it would be a coup for his son to wear the Maple Leaf jersey on home turf at the upcoming U-20 Worlds in Halifax, Nova Scotia if selected. But he’s happy to watch Jeff continue to progress at his own pace this season at university with the Michigan Wolverines.
From the start of his own playing career to the end, Steve Tambellini demonstrated his class. Look at his WHL Most Sportsmanlike Player awards with the Lethbridge Broncos in 1977 and 1978. Or his 81-point campaign with the Austrian club VSV Villach in his final year, 1989-90.
Whichever way you analyze it, Canada is privileged to have a man with such a rich international hockey history at its helm today.