Harvey Smyl knows that the Michigan hockey team found something special when it recruited forward Jeff Tambellini for next season.

“I think he”s destined for the NHL,” said Smyl, who coaches Tambellini on the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbian Hockey League. “He could be a Hobey Baker-caliber player at the next level.”

Those are strong words about any 17-year-old.

But Smyl is no stranger to Division I or NHL talent. A former player at Michigan State, Smyl coached some of Canada”s best including Jason Krog, who won the 1999 Hobey Baker award at New Hampshire, and Shawn Horcoff, who is in his second season with the Edmonton Oilers after a stellar career at Michigan State.

This year”s Chiefs are as strong as any Smyl has seen. Five of his top six forwards have already signed with top-notch programs like Boston University, Denver and Nebraska-Omaha.

But Tambellini still stands out in Smyl”s mind.

“He skates very well, he handles the puck, he has a good knowledge of the game and he uses his teammates extremely well,” Smyl said. “He has dominated at every level and usually he”s been playing at a level above his age.”

Last season, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward tallied 21 goals and 30 assists in 54 games. So far this year, he has already scored 12 goals and notched 22 assists through 21 games, helping the Chiefs to a 15-4-2 record (tops in the Coastal Conference of the British Columbian Hockey League).

But the praise for Tambellini doesn”t stop with Smyl.

The Director of Player Personnel for the Vancouver Canucks calls Tambellini “a very determined, mature young man with a very high skill level. And because of that, I think he will be successful.”

Of course that assessment must be taken with a grain of salt, as the Director of Player Personnel for the Vancouver Canucks is Steve Tambellini, Jeff”s father.

Steve Tambellini worked in Vancouver to help sign former Wolverines such as Bill Muckalt and Brendan Morrison.

Unlike most parents, Tambellini didn”t need to introduce himself to his son”s prospective coaches.

“I had talked with (Michigan head coach) Red (Berenson) plenty of times, but this was different,” the elder Tambellini said. “This time it wasn”t just business. I wanted what is best for Jeff.”

And the whole family couldn”t be more pleased with his decision to come to Ann Arbor.

“The process has been outstanding for us,” Steve said. “We were very impressed with (assistant coach Billy) Powers and Red. Michigan speaks for itself proven record of developing players, great people, very clean terrific program.”

Tambellini”s choice to come to Michigan was easy, as he relishes the opportunity to develop under a living hockey legend like Berenson.

“He has so much history and knowledge I felt like I was learning something every time he spoke,” said the Moody Port, B.C. native.

Although Tambellini has committed himself intensely to hockey, he still maintained a 4.0 GPA in his classes. And while he found the education that Michigan offers compelling, his primary reason for choosing the Wolverines was simple: “It”s his best chance to play for a national title,” his father said.

Tambellini may be the only forward that Michigan brings in on scholarship next year, and he recognizes that the strong freshman class ahead of him could lead to many winning years in the Maize and Blue.

Like father, like son and grandson: In August, Jeff helped Team Canada win the Six Nations Under-18 Cup in the Czech Republic.

Jeff is the third member of the family to don the maple leaf on the international stage. His grandfather, Addy, became the first Tambellini champion when Canada upset the heavily favored Soviet Union in the 1961 World Amateur Hockey Championships in Geneva.

Steve Tambellini competed in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.

Steve played 10 seasons in the NHL, winning a Stanley Cup in 1980 with the New Islanders and Bobby Nystrom. Nystrom”s son, Eric, is a freshman forward for the Wolverines. Steve is currently working as the personnel director for Team Canada”s run at the gold in this winter”s Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Jeff has a tremendous appreciation for the Tambellini hockey legacy. He chose his grandfather”s No. 15 jersey for his stint on the national team, but insists he was never forced into hockey.

“I”ve always been around the game,” Jeff said. “There was never anyone pushing me into hockey. I love the game, and that”s what keeps me going.”

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