When Jeff Tambellini dons the maize-and-blue sweater next season at Yost Ice Arena, he will be one of the youngest players on the Michigan hockey team. But if history repeats itself, the young forward could end up as one of the Wolverines’ top scorers.
Playing against older players is nothing new for the British Columbia native and scoring against them is something he has done throughout his hockey career. With the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League, Tambellini demonstrated his skill and proved himself a potent scoring threat, even at a young age.
“That’s been the history for him, being a young kid and playing with older guys, because he has so much skill,” Chilliwack Chiefs’ head coach and General Manager Harvey Smyl said.
Tambellini scored 117 points in just 54 games last season to become the league’s leading scorer at the age of 18 in a league in which he played against some players who were in their early 20s. The opportunity to play against the best was the reason Tambellini took on players several years older than himself.
“For me it was always just the chance to get to play with the best players,” Tambellini said. “Just to get the chance to play with those guys has been great.”
Despite being the youngest player on the Chiefs, Tambellini’s 46 goals and 71 assists placed him second on the team in both categories and first on the team in points. The tough competition is a good arena for young players to develop.
“Jeff, not unlike most players who get to the next level, has always had to excel against older players,” said Steve Tambellini, the Vice President of Player Personnel for the Vancouver Canucks and Jeff’s father. “I think that’s the best way for one to improve, to play against players who are stronger and better.”
The elder Tambellini is responsible for scouting and player development for Vancouver and as such, brings a different perspective to the game. But he admits that sometimes it is hard to keep the scout’s perspective.
“Normally, when I go to watch hockey games, I’m going there emotionally unattached,” Steve said. “It is different when you are watching as a parent. Obviously you care about what’s happening. At times you are not able to work as I would do normally when I am watching Jeff. You have to be a parent sometimes, too.”
Growing up around his father gaveTambellini an edge in experience not many players get, as he was exposed to numerous NHL players. Tambellini was able to watch and learn from watching some of the greatest players and he applied those lessons to his game.
“It was kinda neat. I got to be put in a lot of situations that kids who grow up don’t always get to be put in,” Tambellini said. “It helped to improve my game. I try to adapt to them and take what they’ve got and put it into mine.”
A potent offensive player who averaged two points per game last season, Tambellini is a threat every time he is in the offensive zone and describes himself as a playmaker who can also finish. His 71 assists last season proved he is as good at setting up his teammates as he is at finding the net on his own. But scoring is only half the game, and Tambellini knows hockey is not played just in the offensive end.
“I see myself as a two-way player, just as good in the defensive zone as in the offense,” Tambellini said. “I try to key on both aspects of the game and be as complete as I can be.”
Tambellini’s two-way play made a major impact on the Chiefs and his former coach thinks the 5-foot-11 forward can do the same at Michigan.
“We were pleased as punch to have him representing us, and I know Michigan will be very pleased as well to have a kid like him,” Smyl said. “There will be some ups and downs to his career, but I think he will be a major player at the college level.”
Not only are Tambellini’s former coaches impressed with his play, but the Michigan coaching staff also recognizes his potential as a standout player. The staff echoes Smyl’s belief that Tambellini can make an impression on the Wolverines by providing instant offense.
“We think he’ll be an impact player at Michigan,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We think he will fit in with our style and hopefully he can get some confidence around the net early and should have a great freshman year.”
Tambellini has proven that he can make an impact even as a young player. Next season, he will have to prove it one more time.