Thursday

Steve Tambellini

Steve Tambellini is from Trail British Columbia, one of Canada's legendary small hockey towns. It was the famous Trail Smoke Eaters that represented Canada at the 1961 World Championships. The Smoke Eaters, featuring Steve's father Adolph as a speedy forward, were the last Canadian team to win gold at the Worlds until the mid 1990s.

Steve left Trail at the age of 17 to play junior hockey with the WHL's Lethbridge Broncos. Tambellini was as ferocious as a hurricane in his years in the Alberta city. He stepped right in and scored 97 points as a rookie. In his second year he scored 84 points in just 55 games but exploded in his draft year of 1977-78. In that season the lanky center exploded for 75 goals and 155 points in 66 games! Those incredible numbers earned Tambellini a first class ticket to the NHL - as a 1st round draft pick (15th overall) by the New York Islanders.

Actually, Tambellini had to wait a year. He was placed in the CHL with the Isle's farm team for some seasoning. The Islanders of course were on the verge of their dynastic Stanley Cup reign, and already boasted some top talent at center. Bryan Trottier, Bob Bourne, Wayne Merrick and the following year Butch Goring were all playing up the middle on Long Island, making playing time for Steve tough to come by.

After a solid first year as a pro, Steve got promoted to the Isles in 1979-80, the first year of the Isles Cup reign. Steve appeared in limited ice time in just 45 games. He scored just 5 goals and 13 points as he apprenticed on the 4th line and from the press box. By late in the season he was a regular scratch with Goring's arrival from Los Angeles. In fact although Tambellini got his name on the Stanley Cup for the only time in that rookie season, he never played in one post season game that spring!

Steve got a better chance to play in his second year, 1980-81. He played fairly regularly in 61 games with the Isles, scoring 19 goals and 17 assists. However a late season trade saw him and back up goalie Chico Resch traded to Colorado for Mike McEwan and Jari Kaarela.

While Steve went from the Stanley Cup champs to one of the worst teams in the league, it was a good move for the swift skating pivot. Steve got a genuine chance to fulfill his potential with lots of playing time and prime power play time. He enjoyed his most successful seasons with the Rockies/New Jersey Devils organization. Scoring 18 points in the final 13 games after the trade, Steve posted career highs in goals (29), assists (30) and points (59) in 1981-82. He added 25 more goals and 43 points in 1982-83, the franchise's first year in New Jersey.

Tambellini was traded to Calgary in the summer of 1983. He and Joel Quenneville went west in exchange for Mel Bridgman and Phil Russell. The Flames of course were developing into a powerhouse of their own, much like the Islanders. Tambellini became a victim of the Flames strong depth. In fact 1984-85 Tambellini exploded for 9 goals and 2 assists in his first 9 games of the year, but soon dried up and ran into injury problems. Despite his incredible start Tambellini fell out of favour in Calgary and actually finished the year in the minors, playing 7 games with the Flames AHL affiliate.

After those two years in Calgary, Tambellini returned "home" sort of. He signed as a free agent with BC's Vancouver Canucks where he would play the final three seasons of his career. In Vancouver it was hoped that he could bring some experience and leadership to the struggling franchise.

In the 1987-88 season, Tambellini found himself as a spare part in Vancouver, only playing in 41 games all year long. The 1988 Olympics were being in Calgary and the IIHF earlier announced that professionals would be allowed to play in the Olympics. While the NHL didn't shut down its season, it gave teams the option to let a player free for the Olympic tournament. Needless to say very few NHLers played for Canada, and none of the superstars. However teams were loaning some veteran spare players so they could represent their country. Calgary loaned Jim Peplinski and Brian Bradley (and Paul Reinhart, who would have been the biggest named released, but a back injury kept him out of action), Winnipeg did the same for Tim Watters as did Toronto with Ken Yaremchuk. Pat Quinn, the Canucks boss, loaned Tambellini to the team that also boasted former Edmonton Oilers Andy Moog (sitting out the NHL season due to a contract dispute) and Randy Gregg (retired from the NHL to pursue his medical career).

Steve played strongly in the Olympic tournament, scoring 1 goal and 3 assists as a veteran on the Olympic team that would finish just out of the medals in 4th place.

Tambellini returned to the Canucks shortly after the Olympics but retired just a few weeks later.

Following his retirement Tambellini became involved in the Vancouver Canucks front office, working his way up to the point where he is considered to be one of the most promising general manager prospects around. His stature was enhanced by his inclusion by Wayne Gretzky and company as a key component of the Team Canada 2002 Olympic management team.

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