Growing up in a hockey family, Jeff Tambellini had all the resources close at hand to help guide him whenever he needed but after half a year of hockey, a career in the sport almost didn't happen.
Luckily for all, living in British Columbia meant that escaping hockey wasn't going to be easy and it didn't take long for his surroundings to influence him into the path he was born to take. In the mild climate of Pacific Northwest, Tambellini didn't have the familiar backyard rinks of many aspiring hockey players but he found a way to make hockey very much the majority of his life much like his East coast counterparts.
Tambellini shares his tales from his journey to the NHL.
What was your first skating experience?
I probably skated for the first time, for real, over in Austria when I was four because my dad was playing over there. It was at an outdoor public ice rink. I think once I got the hang of it, it went pretty smoothly so nothing too traumatic happened.
What was your first hockey team?
Probably just a tyke team when I was six in Port Moody. I played half of the year and then quit and didn’t end up playing the rest. I picked it up again at seven though because at six, I thought that it was just okay.
I just didn’t feel like playing and then when the Canucks got big and they had a good year, it became a big thing in the city so I think a lot of kids picked it up more and eventually why I did too, I guess.
Growing up, the rink was my…
Backyard. We played more on the street so it was like the rink to us.
What was hockey like in your hometown?
Hockey was just what we did. We went to school, came home and played road hockey. Our lives revolved around it and we enjoyed it so much, it was all we thought about at school.
As a kid, it was hard to get ice time because we would only have it during practice so we’d play road hockey to get it anywhere we could. We used to have these huge hockey games and it was such a great time.
How did you get into hockey?
My whole family is in it so for me, it was kind of just second nature. There wasn’t ever a thought that I was going to do anything else. I knew I was going to play.
What role did your family play in getting you to where you are now?
I think with my dad being in the business, I was around it a lot so I was definitely exposed to it at an early age. I got to see the best of the best and that helped me a lot to get to where I am today.
The exposure to this team was very beneficial. I was able to tag along with him and be around at games and getting to see where you want to go. As a kid, all I ever wanted was to play on this team and here I am today.
I remember Trevor [Linden] always being really good to me. Every time I’d see him, he’d always say hi or if I was around at practice, he’d ask me to sit by him and just chat for a bit. It was just such a positive experience for a kid that sees these guys and how good they were. There were a lot of guys that were great influences, Geoff Courtnall and Cliff Ronning were really good with me. All I could think was I needed to find a way to play for this team so it’s made this season pretty special.
Just when they were getting good around 1991 was when I was just getting into hockey so I got lucky to be around a great team and got to be around these guys a lot.
What is your favourite childhood hockey memory?
We got a chance to play hockey in the intermission at the Pacific Coliseum when I was eight (pictured right) and that was pretty cool. I remember that it was right after they cleaned the ice. I had a breakaway and I was just pumped to go in there but the ice was so wet though so when I went to shoot the puck, it stuck to the ice and I missed it so I was just choked. I was still pretty stoked to be out there.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I get asked that question a lot but I can never really name one. I get more influenced by people than by quotes. I’ve always taken more from what people do and say than certain advice. There are so many good people in this game and that I’ve been exposed to that trying to pick up on lots of those guys who really do things right.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to get to the NHL?
I think just work hard and when you think you’re working hard, work even harder. To get to this level is such a long road but you have to have the desire to do it and to do it everyday and continue to get better. Even when you think you’ve really got it, you’ve got to keep going to that next level. We’ve got the best players in the world here and they keep getting better everyday and keep working on their craft.
What was the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
I think the whole process and trying to stay on top the whole time, especially as a young player coming through the ranks. Making sure you’re the top of the team and you’re one of the top players. The constant desire to make sure you’re always pushing to the next level. For me, the biggest thing was to challenge myself.
When you’re playing on this team, there’s no lack of motivation. This is the best hockey club I’ve ever played on and the most talented so the challenge is to find a way to do what our best players are doing.
Do you ever still get the feeling like this is unbelievable that you've made it here?
Everyday. It’s great.
It’s funny when you sign a jersey and you see Trevor Linden’s signature on it and someone wants you to sign it too and that’s one of the craziest things. To be in a place where I grew up watching, it’s been a crazy experience and I’ve enjoyed every step of the way.