When Denver’s Brett Stapley finessed the puck past two defenders and the goaltender for the overtime goal to beat North Dakota on Feb. 2, Michigan freshman forward Jimmy Lambert tweeted a compliment for his former teammate.
The two played together on the same line for three years in the British Columbia Hockey League. And for all the skill and talent Stapley exhibited, the show never got old for Lambert, who had “front-row seats.” Lambert, however, put on a show of his own, scoring 142 points through his three-year stay with the Vernon Vipers — the team for which the two played.
Lambert was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. His grandfather started taking Lambert ice skating at the age of two. Going to public ice sessions offered at his local rink, his grandfather taught him how to skate, bit by bit, until Lambert reached four when he was given his first mini-hockey stick.
Then, Lambert took off and sought to perfect his craft through the junior league. He moved to British Columbia and joined the Vipers after three years in Saskatoon’s midget league. There, under Vernon’s coach Mark Ferner, Lambert developed into a better player in all aspects.
“The program there was awesome,” Lambert said. “Mark Ferner, our coach, he really helped me develop as a player, on both sides of the puck. He’s very understandings of how players play the game and really wants them to get to the next level.
“That’s the goal of junior hockey, that’s to help players get scholarships and he’s done that for many years with his job in Vernon. He’s sent multiple players to (the) NCAA, and he’s very good at developing players.”
Ferner, a two-time BCHL coach of the year, had a keen understanding of not only the game but his roster as well. Lambert’s game is built on speed, puck control and, most importantly, vision. Pitting him with a skill-based player like Stapley complemented his style and the two led the team to two division finals and a semifinal.
From there, Lambert reached junior hockey. He moved up to the NCAA. When Michigan came calling, he didn’t hesitate to accept.
“I definitely can say, if you’re going to school in Canada, you’re not going to be getting the same things we’re getting here for sure,” Lambert joked.
But the collegiate level proved to be a taller task than initially expected. With only four games left in the regular season, Michigan coach Mel Pearson noted that despite the strides he’s made so far, Lambert has a long way to go.
“He’s just learning what it takes to be a good player,” Pearson said. “Just an average player at this level.”
Through 25 games, Lambert has just totaled eight points, starkly contrasting the prior year, when he had 61 points in 55 games in the BCHL and was top-20 in point totals of the entire league.
“He’s got to play stronger on the puck, he’s got to play faster on the puck, he’s got to handle the puck better, he’s got to release it quicker,” Pearson said. “I think that reflects in his numbers a little bit. He’s on the power play, and he gets a little good shake on a regular line, but his numbers don’t blow you away. But it’s an adjustment. And I don’t know if he was totally prepared for the adjustment that it takes.”
Pearson has implored Lambert to take things more seriously, through preparation for games or practices. There are many different routines or styles of hockey — different ways to play, practice or prepare. As Pearson puts it, Lambert’s yet to find his own.
But he has started to put things together.
“I’m working on making sure I’m a little better in the defensive zone,” Lambert said. “And I like to think I have some offensive upside, definitely need to start putting the puck in the net a little bit more.”
It’s clear what Lambert’s strengths are. Despite his numbers on the stat sheets being limited, the ones on there have been created by his speed and vision. Knowing not only where his teammates are, but his opponents as well, he likes to keep tabs on all the players on the ice at all times. Marked, unmarked, open or contested, he’ll know and make the play with the puck to get the best shot available.
“He’s got a good knowledge of the game, good hockey sense,” Pearson said. “Gets up and down pretty good, and he’s got some of the intangibles you look for in a player. I think he’s a good team guy, I know he’s a good team guy.”
Even if Lambert hasn’t yet put it all together, he has the vision that will allow it soon.