Steve Tambellini is older now, but pleasant memories of Davos, Switzerland and the Spengler Cup linger. After all, he was only six years old when his father Addie played in the prestigious and oldest club team hockey tournament in Europe in the mid-1960s.
Now 50 years later, Steve Tambellini will return to the tournament as Canada’s front man and his 30-year-old son Jeff will play for Canada.
“If you have to go there, it’s not a bad place to be at Christmas time,” said Steve, who as the team's director of player personnel put the team roster together this week that includes former NHLers Marc-Antoine Pouliot, Curtis Hamilton, Byron Ritchie, Jim Vandermeer and Ryan Parent.
“What do I remember when my Dad played? We were young, but I do have some memories. I’m pretty sure it was on an outdoor rink. This will be an exciting and special time for us.”
Yes, it was. In it’s early years the Spengler Cup, which has been around since 1923, was played on an outdoor rink and often endured delays because of nasty weather. It wasn’t until 1979 tournament organizers brought the festivities indoors.
On the heels of Addie Tambellini’s play for the Trail Smoke Eaters and the world championship in 1961 in Geneva, a few years later he was invited to be general manager and player-coach of the Klagenfurt squad in Austria.
“I believe he was loaned by his team in Austria to play in the tournament,” said Steve, whose father passed away 10 years ago. Addie’s foray abroad with the Smoke Eaters, the last Canadian amateur team to win the world championship – and Canada didn’t win another world title until 1994 – began quite an international hockey run for the Tambellini family.
Steve, who was a rookie with the 1979-80 New York Islanders when they won their first of four Stanley Cups in a row, played for Canada at the 1978 world junior, the 1981 world championship under coach Don Cherry and 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary.
The former Edmonton Oilers GM also was part of Hockey Canada management teams when Canada celebrated gold at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, 2003 world championship and 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
After his 555-game (regular season and playoffs) NHL career with the Islanders, Colorado Rockies, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks, Tambellini returned to Austria to play one final season of professional hockey with Villach VSV. When Steve and his wife Denise were in Villach, their son Jeff and daughter Trish were about the same age as Steve was in mid-1960s when his father played for Klagenfurt.
Jeff was a standout sophomore at the University of Michigan when he made the Canadian junior team for the 2004 IIHF under-20 championship, and just like his Dad roomed with Wayne Gretzky for the 1978 tournament in Montreal, Jeff was assigned Sidney Crosby as his roomie in Helsinki.
Jeff played 248 regular season and playoff games combined in the NHL for the Los Angeles Kings, Islanders and Canucks. But after a run with Vancouver to the 2010-11 Stanley Cup final, Jeff moved to Europe.
After two years in Zurich with the ZSC Lions and last season with MoDo in Sweden, the younger Tambellini has returned to Switzerland to play for Fribourg-Gotteron for former Chicoutimi Sagueneens head coach Rene Matte. Two of Tambellini’s new teammates in Fribourg are Canadians and former NHLers Christian Dube and Pouliot, who was Crosby’s linemate in junior with the Rimouski Oceanic.
Canada began competing in the Spengler Cup on a regular basis in 1984 and has won the event on 12 occasions since then. The last time Canada has won the event at the beautiful Vailliant Arena in Davos was in 2012, when NHLers like Patrice Bergeron, John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Ryan Smyth and Matt Duchene played because of the NHL lockout. Canada beat Joe Thornton, Patrick Kane and host Davos HC to win two years ago.
Canada opens this year's tournament against Davos on Boxing Day.