The Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL issued a press release yesterday announcing that former Syracuse Crunch forward Jeff Tambellini was leaving the team after two seasons serving as General Manager and Head Coach. Tambellini is leaving to become an NCAA Free Agent Recruiter and Pro Scout for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tambellini, a winger, was originally a first round selection in 2003 by the Los Angeles Kings. He played three seasons in NCAA hockey for the University of Michigan where he put up 65 goals and 129 points in 124 games before turning professional. He made his NHL debut in 2005-06 with the Kings and then was traded to the New York Islanders. He played parts of six seasons in the NHL with the Kings, Islanders, and Vancouver Canucks compiling 63 points in 242 career games.
Tambellini left North America to play in Europe for four seasons in Switzerland and Sweden. He returned to the small rinks in 2015-16 to play for the Syracuse Crunch where he scored 29 goals and 49 points in 65 games in 2015-16, serving as a veteran leader for the Crunch. He finished out his career with a season in Sweden in 2016-17.
Since retiring after the 2016-17 season, Tambellini spent a season as an assistant coach at his Alma Mater of Michigan. He then took the job with the Trail Smoke Eaters serving as both General Manager and Head Coach for the BCHL team. This marked a return to the BCHL for Tambellini where he spent two seasons, including one in which he scored 117 points in 34 games, before entering NCAA hockey.
He also comes from a hockey family. His father Steve was a first round draft pick in 1978 by the New York Islanders playing 553 total games in the NHL and winning a Stanley Cup with the Islanders in 1979-80. The elder Tambellini then became a Director of Player Personnel and Assistant General Manager for the Vancouver Canucks. In 2008, he was hired as the General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers and served in that role through 2012-13.
Brother Adam was a third round pick in 2013 by the New York Rangers, but has not made it to the NHL. He spent four seasons in the AHL and spent the 2019-20 season playing in Sweden. Their grandfather, Addie Tambellini, won a Bronze Medal for Team Canada in the World Championships.
Tambellini just turned 36 and is not that far removed from playing hockey. Being a younger scout that played in the NHL after the 2004 NHL Lockout, he has seen how the game has evolved over the past 15 years up close putting him into a good position to understand Pro Scouting in today’s NHL. His history of playing NCAA hockey, as well as playing in the AHL and Europe, also puts him in a unique position to be an NCAA Free Agent Recruiter. His role with the Smoke Eaters which serves as a pathway for many Canadian hockey players to play in the NCAA also gives him a leg up in this area. To the best of my knowledge, the Lightning have never had such a position in the past.
The hiring of Tambellini also continues a recent trend for the Lightning front office of bringing back former organizational players. In Tambellini’s case, he only spent a season with the Lightning organization, but it was obviously enough for him to create some contacts and familiarity with the organization. Lightning Director of Amateur Scouting and Assistant General Manager Al Murray also had a previous connection with Tambellini having served as Director of Amateur Scouting for the Los Angeles Kings when Tambellini was drafted.
Last summer, the Lightning brought in Mathieu Darche as the Director of Hockey Operations. Darche played for the Lightning in 2007-08 and had previously played with the Syracuse Crunch while they were affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets. J.P Cote was also brought in at the same time as Director of Player Development. Cote spent four seasons with the organization mostly playing in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch and 19 games in the NHL during 2013-14 with the Lightning.
Jeff Halpern spent parts of three seasons with the Lightning from 2007-08 to 2009-10. He re-joined the organization as a Development Coach in 2015-16 and moved behind the bench as an assistant coach for the Crunch the next season. In 2018-19, Halpern was promoted to the big club and has served as an assistant to Jon Cooper the past two seasons. Mike Angelidis also spent the 2018-19 season with the Lightning as a Pro Scout before moving on. Angelidis spent six seasons with the Lightning mostly playing in the AHL and 14 games in the NHL.
Connections are everything in a tight knit community like hockey. For many of the staff in the front office of the Lightning, you can draw a connection to someone else that certainly helped them to get their job. Al Murray worked with Steve Yzerman at Hockey Canada. Jamie Pushor and Stacy Roest both played in Detroit with Yzerman. Derek Lalonde came up through the minors with Jon Cooper.
Now, there is something to be said about the community being so insular. Sometimes it’s more about who you know instead of what you know. It has made it more difficult for people from non-traditional hockey backgrounds to break into the sport behind the bench and in the front office. It’s an industry where networking and having friends in the right places can be a big boon to your career.
At the same time, there’s something to be said about trust and understanding. Especially when talking about scouts where you are trusting in their ability to evaluate players and give good opinions. Having that previous relationship with potential member of the front office can create a comfort level that they will be able to contribute in the way that you expect them to.