It is not uncommon for kids to want to follow in the footsteps of their parents. So for Jeff Tambellini, whose father Steve was a successful NHL player and a current team executive, pursuing a future in hockey was pretty much a given.
“I think when you’re growing up, you don’t even think twice about it,” he said. “It’s just what you’re going to do, and that’s the way it is from Day 1.”
Steve Tambellini’s NHL career spanned nine seasons and saw him play for five teams. Following his final NHL season with Vancouver in 1988, he stayed with the Canucks to work in their front office. After accepting his initial position as Director of Media Relations, he worked his way up the ranks and was named Vice President and Assistant General Manager in June of 2004.
His position with the club allowed his oldest son Jeff not only an up-close look into the game he loved, but also a chance to see how numerous players went about reaching their goals of playing in the NHL.
“I was fortunate enough to grow up in the business,” he said. “I was around the Vancouver Canucks as a young kid, so it was a good experience.”
Growing up in Port Moody, British Columbia, about 30 minutes outside of downtown Vancouver, Jeff could have very easily followed his father’s path through the WHL to prepare himself for his future career. However, unlike most of his peers growing up in Canada, the 5’11, 186-pound forward decided against the major junior route and ended up playing college hockey for the University of Michigan.
“I think I had the opportunity to see that I could make that decision,” he said. “I think a lot of kids at 15 and 16, they play in a WHL game and end up making the decision before they know what’s out there. With my father in the business, I was able to see both sides, and I would be able to get a degree by the time I was 21 or 22, so it was a no-brainer for me.”
Michigan obviously appealed to Tambellini for its successful hockey program, but its academics were a top priority for him as well. In talking to the well-spoken 22-year-old, it’s evident that getting his education is very important to him.
“Michigan is a great school academically and the hockey there is just phenomenal,” he said. “They’re in the Frozen Four just about every year, so with the athletics and the academics, it was a great balance.”
Tambellini was an honor student from Sardis Secondary School in Chilliwack, BC in 2002, and majored in sports management once he got to Michigan. After his freshman year, he was drafted 27th overall in 2003 by the Los Angeles Kings. He decided to forego his senior year to attend Kings training camp, leaving himself about a semester and a half short of graduating. But getting his degree is a goal he intends to reach.
“If I went that far, I’m going to get the rest of it,” he said.
But obviously, succeeding in hockey was Tambellini’s main focus at Michigan. He scored 26 goals his freshman season, which tied him for third in the nation among rookies (with former North Dakota Fighting Sioux forward and current New Jersey Devil Zach Parise), and good enough to be named the CCHA’s Rookie of the Year. A wrist injury slowed him during his sophomore campaign, but he rebounded very well his junior year, leading the Wolverines and setting career highs in points with 57 (24 goals, 33 assists) and plus-minus (+30).
While he looked prime for another career year in 2005-06, Tambellini thought it best to pursue his NHL career. He spent the majority of the season with the Kings’ farm team, the Manchester Monarchs, where he averaged exactly a point per game (56 points in 56 games) before being dealt to the Islanders just before the trade deadline.
In that deal, Tambellini, along with defenseman Denis Grebeshkov, were sent to the Islanders in the trade that saw Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel head to L.A. With the deal, Tambellini went from being an AHL standout to an NHL regular, as he played the final 21 games of last season on Long Island.
“I was pretty excited,” he said about the trade. “With one phone call you go to playing in the AHL to finishing the season in the NHL. So, for me it was a great opportunity and I’m thrilled to come over to the organization.”
Coming into the 2006-07 season, Tambellini had a strong camp and initially made the Islanders roster to start the season, playing one game, but then reassigned to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Oct. 12. He has nine goals and seven assists in 15 games with Bridgeport, playing in all situations. He’s tied for second in scoring on the team with Blake Comeau, one point behind Robert Nilsson.
This talented forward has the skills, experience, and attitude that should help him get back to the NHL sooner rather than later.
“I expect to hopefully play myself onto the big team,” he said. “That’s every guy’s goal. But our first goal is to do well here and that translates to a chance to play up. We all know what we have to do to get up there, so I think that’s the goal of every guy playing in the AHL.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.