The Trail Smoke Eaters announced that head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini is returning to the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning hired the 36-year-old former NHLer on Wednesday as its NCAA Free Agent Recruiter and Pro Scout. The last time Tambellini signed with Tampa was as a player in 2015 when GM Steve Yzerman inked the BC forward to a one-year, two-way deal.
The hiring was unexpected but not surprising, as Tambellini’s shrewd recruiting efforts were key to the Smoke Eaters success this past season.
“I would like to thank Rich Murphy and Craig Clare for hiring me as General Manager and Head Coach in April 2018,” said Tambellini in a release. “I had two main goals when I came to Trail; first, build a championship team and second, to build the Trail Smoke Eaters into a top franchise focused on the development and advancement of elite players to the NCAA. I am proud to say that we were on our way to a Championship season in 2020. More importantly, the Trail Smoke Eaters are now regarded as one of the top development franchises in the CJHL.”
Over his two seasons in Trail, Tambellini posted a 70-46-15-1 record, and coached the team to a second-place finish in the Interior Division this season, while setting multiple team records that had stood for almost 25 years.
The addition of Tambellini to the Smoke Eaters was a popular one for Trail fans, as his father Steve and grandfather Addy Tambellini are from the Silver City, and Addy was part of the ‘61 World Championship Smoke Eaters team.
Tambellini’s strong work ethic and NHL experience were deciding factors in his hiring two summers ago, but keeping that family tradition intact was a bonus for Smoke Eaters director of hockey operations Craig Clare.
“To see the culture Jeff and his staff built here in the past two years makes me very proud to be a part of this organization,” said Clare. “I look forward to following Jeff’s career in the NHL and keeping him close to the Smoke Eater family in our continued pursuit of a BCHL championship. This opportunity is very deserving and earned by Jeff.”
Tambellini started his second season from scratch, and amid some skepticism, built one of the best teams in the BCHL. Led by elite captain Philippe Lapointe, and league’s leading scorer Kent Johnson, along with a deep combination of seasoned veterans and talented rookies, the Smoke Eaters finished fourth overall in the BCHL, swept the Prince George Spruce Kings in Round 1 of the BCHL playoffs and were poised for a run to the Fred Page Cup.
In addition, the Smoke Eaters named an unprecedented four players to Team Canada West for the World Junior A Hockey Challenge, iced the MVP and top scorer in Johnson, the Rookie of the Year in goalie Logan Terness and committed 11 players to the NCAA ranks.
“Building and developing an elite group of players is very expensive,” said Tambellini. “Again, I want to thank Rich and Annie Murphy for providing us the resources to build and acquire a top team for the 2019-20 season. I also want to thank my hockey staff and the entire TSE business staff. I was very privileged to work with an outstanding group of young passionate people who all wanted to see great things for our franchise.”
The Smoke Eaters and the community will miss Tambellini, but he leaves a number of top players and upcoming prospects in his wake. The only regret for Smokies fans is not seeing what could have been in this year’s playoff.
For owner Rich Murphy, despite the disappointing early end to the season due to the pandemic, he couldn’t be more satisfied with Tambellini’s efforts in Trail.
“Jeff Tambellini was everything Annie and I wanted in a coach for this organization,” said Murphy. “He displayed confidence in our program as well as his players, and was able to get the most out of each and every player and push them to be their best selves, on and off the ice. Our loyal fan base has come to expect great things and Jeff was a significant part in helping us get there. Although we will greatly miss Jeff, we are absolutely thrilled to see him move to the NHL. This is great news for the BCHL, our organization and community. We wish Jeff all the best in his new opportunity!”
Jeff leaves the Silver City a better place and the Smoke Eaters a better team, with many great memories and the Tambellini legacy alive and well.
“Finally, I’d like to thank my players,” added Tambellini. “In both seasons, the group of players that we went into the playoffs with were outstanding groups of young men. The 22 players in 2019 and the 23 players in 2020, were all willing to sacrifice for each other in order to win, and I truly thank them for that. In both seasons I had outstanding Captains in Braden Tuck and Philippe Lapointe. Those two men helped us build the identity, work ethic and execution level I expected out of both teams and I am forever grateful to have worked with them.
“It’s been an amazing two years in Trail, BC and I wish the players, staff, and volunteers of the Trail Smoke Eaters organization continued success!”
Tambellini will stay on with the Smoke Eaters as “Special Advisor” for the 2020-21 season.
With files from Smoke Eaters broadcaster Ben Phillips.