By Alan Adams
HELSINKI, Finland -- Jeff Tambellini can’t help it if he bleeds Canadian red and white.
You might say it’s in his blood. Tambellini is the third generation of the Tambellini family to wear Canada’s colors on the world stage and Jeff is proud of the rich tradition he’s carrying on at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
"To have three generations from one country is pretty special, all of us playing for Canada," says Jeff, who is the only collegiate-trained player on Canada’s National Junior Team. "It’s pretty unique."
The uniqueness started with his grandfather Addie, who was a member of the Trail Smoke Eaters which won the world championship in 1961. The Smoke Eaters were the last Canadian amateur team to win a world championship and it took another 33 years for Canada to claim a world crown and it was NHL players who did it in 1994 in Italy.
His dad, Steve Tambellini, represented Canada in the 1978 world championship in Prague and won a bronze and played in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. But Steve Tambellini gained most of his international reputation as a part of the management team with the 2002 Canadian Olympic team that won gold. Steve Tambellini, who is vice-president of the Vancouver Canucks, is also part of Canada’s management team for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
You can imagine the stories of international hockey when the Tambellinis gather for family functions.
Jeff remembers the stories his grandfather would tell him.
"(Addie) tells me about the atmosphere over there, how they were treated and the adversity they went through to win those games," says Jeff. "When I was young he had all the medals and all the trophies from himself and my dad from down in the basement there and I got to see a lot of the stuff and the things you get playing in these tournaments, it is pretty special.
"There aren’t too many people who can say that have three generations in the game and at this level. I think it is special to be thrust into the spotlight in a tournament like this."
Tambellini is competing in what is hockey’s ultimate coming-out party. The tournament provides scouts and fans the first glimpse of the NHL’s future stars and he showed he belonged by scoring the first goal in Canada’s 5-2 win over the Czech Republic on New Year’s Eve. The victory clinched a semifinal berth.
His father was in the stands and he was asked whether he thought the day would come when he’d see his son continue the family tradition.
"I sure hoped it would but you never really know," said Steve. "Think about how many great kids play the game and there are only 22 players here. To get an opportunity to do that is very special."
Like his father and grand-father, Jeff Tambellini is making a name for himself for his skill and speed. He led the University of Michigan in goals when he left for Canada’s National Junior team and last year led Michigan in points en route to rookie-of-the-year honors in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
Jeff jokes about which part of his family’s DNA he has.
"Hopefully the speed. Our family has been a pretty good skating family so I guess I picked up a touch of that and it is nice to have bloodlines like that," he says.
Hockey Canada Head Scout Blair Mackasey had the job of selecting Canada’s roster and he says Tambellini was a no-brainer.
"If you look in Canada and I see this every day, if you look at good players you will see that many of them have parents who played or were involved in the game,’’ he says. "When you are in that family situation, you grow up with hockey and you know what it is all about. It is not just what you do on the ice. It is knowing about the game and I think that is a big advantage."
" His speed is one of his biggest assets but it’s also the way he goes about the game and the way he prepares and the way he knows the game. I think again that is part of growing up in a hockey family, you know those things."
Jeff Tambellini was a first-round pick by Los Angeles last June and Kings General Manager Dave King is here for the tournament and he’s liked what he has seen.
"He has the ability to score and he has outstanding speed," said Taylor. "You are playing against the best junior players in the world so it is a good evaluation tool to see where you stand among the best. First of all it is an honor to be here and as the tournament goes on he will see how he fares."
Jeff Tambellini is the only player from the U.S. college ranks on Canada’s
National Junior Team. He could have played major junior hockey but chose the college route because he wants
to get his degree. He's enrolled in kinesiology at Michigan with an eye to a sports management.
" From Day 1 I had the option of choosing what I thought would be best for me to develop as a player and a person and the college route was best," he says. "You get your education and you are setting yourself up for a pretty good future.
" I would like to step right into the business and that is the plan, for sure. It is a great lifestyle. You can be in the game and be around the sport you love. So if I can find a way into a job like that it would be great."
In the interim, Jeff is focusing on the assignment at hand and that’s winning a gold medal at the World Junior Championship.
"Every Canadian kid wants to be here. This is a dream for everybody in Canada. It is a great honor to wear this crest every day and we know that we have 30 million people watching back home and it is such a great atmosphere and it is a true honor."
Jeff talks to his dad every day and before coming to the capital of Finland, Steve offered some friendly advice.
"He told me to take hold of the opportunity and to scratch at every chance I get. The reason why I think I made this team is the way I am able to take advantage of each opportunity. I think it is so crucial to really bear down and get to the next level and be not just an average player or a good player but a great player."
Jeff doesn’t mind the pressure of all or nothing. He knows gold is the only color that counts in the land of the Olympic champion
"That is the way it should be. The standard of Canadian hockey is so high and it should be that high. We expect the best and we want to be the best. Anything but a gold medal is a disappointment."