With a rich family history of his father Steve and grandfather Adolf Tambellini running through Trail and the Smoke Eaters legacy, it was Jeff Tambellini’s turn to at last don the orange and black.
“He was my first call and it’s nice to have a senior advisor right away,” said Jeff about his dad Steve, a former NHLer and GM of the Edmonton Oilers, who now scouts for the Anaheim Ducks. “Going back, the history he has with the city, for me it’s so exciting to get a chance to be a member of this franchise. Pretty much every part of my family has played for this team, so to finally to be a part of it, for me, is a big thrill.”
The Trail Smoke Eaters Director of Hockey Operations, Craig Clare, introduced head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini to the media on Tuesday at the Smoke Eaters office at the Trail Memorial Centre.
Following the introductions, the 34-year-old former BCHL MVP was asked, ‘What was the most pressing task in bolstering the Smoke Eater’s line up?’
“I think it’s hard when you lose two top guys (Kale Howarth and Ross Armour) right away, but we feel really good about what we have coming, our young recruits. We have a strong recruit class that we feel really confident about, so we’re going to look for a couple guys, maybe some older players looking to transfer from schools. We’re going to go through some really different options. But the first week, I’ll just try to get the lay of the land of the roster and the holes we need filled.”
The Smoke Eaters scouting and coaching staff have been working hard, nailing down quality commitments from forwards Bryce Anderson, Sean Donaldson, Kent Johnson, Logan Harris and Owen Ozar, and defencemen Jimmy Darby and Kieran O’Hearne.
“We definitely want to take the time to go through our current guys, and get to meet with them a little bit further, but we want to make sure our roster is prepared to win, but also insulate our younger players.”
Last season, the Smoke Eaters introduced Troy Ring as team captain at the annual Silver City Days festival, however, that timeline may be unlikely for this Smoke Eaters leadership group. Fourth-year veteran and Montrose native Spencer McLean, as well as third-year vets like Braeden Tuck and Crescent Valley’s Kyle Chernenkoff will undoubtedly earn consideration, but Tambellini first wants to consult with all returning players and the coaching staff before determining the team captain and assistants.
“We want to build a leadership group that really represents what a Trail Smoke Eater is, the right character, the right values, because it’s’ a big role. You’re leading the full team and young players, and we need our leaders to be very influential in our community and in our dressing room, so we’re not going to take that lightly and definitely go through the process.”
Tambellini will settle in Trail and looks forward to getting on the ice, but before that he’ll put on his GM hat in an effort to fill out the remaining Smokies roster.
“Today, it’s really sitting down and mapping out a schedule, getting into our roster, things happen from now to training camp, we want to get our roster in a good spot as soon as possible.”
Although it’s still early, Tambellini’s expectations for the season are tempered by the compete level of the BCHL’s Interior Division.
“It’s a tough division, and I’m so impressed with what this team did last year,” he said. “So we’re excited about the opportunity to come in and work with this team, because there’s not a lot of time for you to come into a club that’s really on the rise.
“But we are losing some players, and you never know what the impact’s going to be with the guys coming in. One thing I don’t want to do is put expectations on the group until I get them in the building. We’re going to be competitive, and we have big plans internally.”
More important, the former NCAA Michigan Wolverines’ assistant coach is ready to challenge his players and bring the best out of them on and off the ice.
“There’s going to be a high standard on this team, and we’re going to get better throughout the year. We’re looking to guys to take some big strides, guys to step up in the roles they played last year, whether it’s production wise or leadership wise. We’re going to need our young guys to come in and make an impact, and by the time this team is ready to go into the playoffs, we’re going to be in a good spot.”
The Smoke Eaters will host a meet-and-greet for sponsors and fans on Wednesday at their office in the Trail Memorial Centre from noon to 1 p.m.