Back before Steve Tambellini was the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, he had a long hockey career. He started his WHL (then WCHL) career with the Lethbridge Broncos in 1975-76, and as he closes in on 40 years in the game it can be a little staggering to think about the vast network of hockey contacts he’s formed.
A lot of the players that Steve Tambellini played with on his way to the NHL, and then in the major leagues, have gone on to take key roles with professional and junior teams. Tambellini played hockey with four different Sutter brothers – Darryl, Duane, Brian and Rich. The Buffalo Sabres GM/coach combination of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff both shared a locker room with Tambellini.
Other NHL coaches and managers have taken to the ice with the Oilers General Manager. Joel Quenneville, Marc Crawford, Brent Peterson, Stan Smyl, Marc Habscheid, Trent Yawney, Mike Kitchen, Lorne Henning, Dave Lewis and Doug Risebrough are just some of the names that have played on the same team as Tambellini. Up-and-comers like Willie Desjardins and Dave Cameron can also claim some common history.
Then there’s the lengthy list of coaches and players who passed through Vancouver while Tambellini worked his way up the ranks. His first coaching hire, Pat Quinn, shared both a Canucks and Hockey Canada background with Tambellini. Quinn’s successor, Tom Renney, can say the same thing. Mike Sillinger, now working with Oilers’ prospects after a long career with seemingly every team in the league, passed through Vancouver during Tambellini’s time there. Others – people like current Islanders’ G.M. Garth Snow, Maple Leafs’ head coach Ron Wilson, and current Canucks executive (and father of Sam) Dave Gagner – either played or coached for the Canucks during Tambellini’s time there.
Tambellini’s Hockey Canada experience gave him an even more diverse set of contacts. Current general managers Steve Yzerman and Joe Nieuwendyk both played for teams that Tambellini helped manage, and many of the game’s best coaches and executives have been involved in some capacity with Tambellini’s teams. Tambellini’s Hockey Canada background goes back further though – during his playing career he played at the World Juniors, World Championships and Olympic Games (coached by current Coyotes assistant coach Dave King in the latter of those three tournaments).
I started this article by trying to put together a comprehensive list of Tambellini’s contacts from his playing days and time in Vancouver, but that’s simply an impossible task. He’s played with hundreds of other players, played for, worked with or managed at least dozens of coaches, and altogether he’s rubbed shoulders somewhere along the way with an incalculable number of guys earning paychecks from NHL, AHL, NCAA or Major Junior teams.
That’s not all, though. Every one of those people that Tambellini knows has their own network of friends, family, contacts and co-workers. When I try to visualize all those networks, the closest I can come is fractal geometry – like the picture above, one base branching out in uncounted directions, with each branch splitting and twisting off in a similar manner.
I imagine that’s the same for most of the game’s top executives – and for that matter, for a lot of the more experienced members of the Oilers hockey operations staff.
I think it’s something worth remembering whenever a team hires for a hockey position – whether that position is coaching, scouting, or something else. The hockey world is a lot smaller than the real world, and the vast majority of candidates are going to have history with someone on the team they’re applying for a job with.
Largely irrelevant trivia: Did you know that Steve Tambellini once played NHL hockey with Taylor Hall?