Reaching back into the past, the Lethbridge Hurricanes look to take a big step forward.
For the first time in franchise history, the organization will honour its past by first creating an alumni association and hall of fame and then opening its doors by inducting three illustrious figures from the city’s junior hockey archives.
Former Lethbridge Bronco centre Steve Tambellini, Hurricane goaltender Jamie McLennan and longtime broadcaster Steve Fallwell will make up the first class of inductees.
“It was a wonderful call to get,” Tambellini said Thursday from Vancouver. “I have such fond memories of going (to Lethbridge) as a teenager and spending three years in the city. It was a big part of my maturing as a person and maturing as a player and getting a chance to play pro hockey so I have very fond memories of the people there.”
The Trail, B.C. native spent three full seasons with the Broncos, winning Western Canada Hockey League rookie of the year honours in 1975-76 and then grabbing consecutive WCHL most sportsmanlike player awards over his final two seasons. He upped his goal total each season in Lethbridge, from 38 to 42 to a franchise record 75 in 1977-78, while his 155 points that year are still the most produced by any Bronco or Hurricane in a single season.
“I was given a chance every year that I played there to be able to get better,” Tambellini said. “No one at any time in that organization ever tried to hold me back or cap me on what I was trying to accomplish."
“I’m so respectful to the people I was able to work for and play in front of and the fact that it was open-ended and nobody tried to hold you back. I just think that whole experience in Lethbridge was such a positive, it was unmatched for me.”
McLennan came to the Lethbridge Hurricanes via Spokane in the 1988 season.
His value to the ’Canes rose greatly over the next two seasons as he backstopped the Hurricanes to consecutive trips to the WHL championship.
Always popular with his teammates and fans, McLennan was a natural leader both on and off the ice. 1990-91 marked his best season, as he posted a 32-18-4 record en route to winning the Del Wilson Trophy as the WHL’s top goaltender, and being named to the WHL Eastern Conference All Star team.
The New York Islanders chose “Noodles,” as he was known to teammates, in the 3rd round and 48th overall in the 1991 NHL entry draft. During his career in the NHL, he has made stops with the Islanders, St. Louis, Minnesota, New York Rangers, Florida and two ventures with the Calgary Flames. He was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy for the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. “They are such huge developmental years from 17 to 20,” said McLennan at last year’s alumni golf tournament. “That age, you start to become a little bit more of a man as far as being away from home, you have more responsibility. Even though you're with a billet family, it's still an adjustment as far as leaving home and going (somewhere) to be focused to play hockey.
“What I am today, as far as a player and that, was developed here in Lethbridge.”
Fallwell introduced junior hockey to a generation of fans in southern Alberta. He served as first the Broncos play-by-play announcer for 10 seasons, then took up the call of the Hurricanes for another 11 years. With impeccable timing and a voice unmatched in junior hockey, Fallwell became as much a part of the Broncos and Hurricanes as any facet of the game.
That the Hurricanes have now formed an alumni association and are working to further connect the franchise with its illustrious past is a big step, Tambellini says. It’s something the Vancouver Canucks, where Tambellini serves as assistant general manager, have been focusing on for years.
“It’s not only how you treat your current people but maybe even more significantly, how you deal with your past players and your past employees and the respect and stature they still receive with us,” he said.
“I think that is truly a mark of success when people come back to the organization and still feel they have a link to and a place within the organization. It says a lot to the current players and it says a lot to the current people that you know how the former people are treated and you know what’s in store for you as a current employee.”
The three are to be honoured at a Hurricane home game this season and Tambellini is looking forward to taking a break from his NHL duties to reconnect with his junior hockey past.
“I would like that a lot, it’d be a nice chance to get back to Lethbridge and spend some time there because I’ve got great memories there.”
ICE CHIPS — Both McLennan and Tambellini started their NHL careers with the New York Islanders. Tambellini was a first-rounder, 15th overall, in 1978 . . . The Molson Hurricane/Bronco Alumni Association annual golf tournament goes today at Paradise Canyon Golf Resort with a 1 p.m. shotgun start.