Lane Lambert’s June appointment as a Washington Capitals assistant coach reunited him with Caps coach Barry Trotz. Lambert also served as an assistant coach under Trotz during the latter’s long tenure as head coach of the Nashville Predators. But when Lambert joined the Caps’ staff at last month’s NHL Draft in Philadelphia, he was also reunited with a couple of other familiar faces at the club’s dinner on the eve of the draft.
Lambert, a second-round draft choice (25th overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in 1983, spent six seasons playing in the NHL and he spent the better part of two decades playing professionally in North America and abroad. During his playing career, he became acquainted with Caps director of player development Steve Richmond and amateur scout Alan Haworth. Lambert and Richmond were teammates in Detroit and Lambert and Haworth played together with the Quebec Nordiques.
“It was really good to see Steve Richmond,” says Lambert. “I haven’t seen him for a long time and we won a championship together in Adirondack [in 1986]. Anytime you win a championship together, you have a lifelong bond. He has the same ring at home that I have. It’s pretty exciting and it was fun to see him.
“Alan Haworth, I played with him in Quebec. He was my centerman for a while. We played together for basically a whole year. It was good to see some people that I hadn’t seen for a long time. That’s the nice thing about the game, the relationships you have. And everyone else that I didn’t know, I enjoyed the time I spent with them this weekend.”
After a high-scoring junior career with Swift Current and Saskatoon in the Western League, Lambert debuted with Detroit as an 18-year-old in 1983-84. He and Steve Yzerman – the Wings’ first-round choice (fourth overall) in 1983 – made their NHL debuts together on the same night, Oct. 5, 1983 against the Jets in Winnipeg.
Lambert appeared in 283 regular season NHL games with three different clubs. He then played for the Canadian National Team and briefly played in Germany before spending six seasons playing professionally in Switzerland. Lambert’s international experience helps him relate to the many European players who skate on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“I think it gives you a better understanding of what they’re going through,” says Lambert, “when they do come here, especially the younger players. By going over to Switzerland and playing six years there, I sort of went through the same thing: culture, foods, languages, how to get from point A to point B. There are all different kinds of things that you have to think about. A lot of it is off-ice stuff. The off-ice stuff has to be squared away so the on-ice stuff can be as productive as possible.
“That experience has helped me with players that have come over within the Nashville organization and I’m confident it will continue to help me develop players in this organization.”
At the age of 32, Lambert opted to return to North America and continue his career with Cleveland in the now-defunct International Hockey League.
“It was a little bit family related,” explains Lambert. “We wanted to be on this side of the pond, so to speak, in terms of our daughter. The other side of it for me from a hockey standpoint was that I wanted to get back to the North American game and challenge myself. I was older when I came back, and I was playing 36 games a year over there. It was great; don’t get me wrong. But I’ve always tried to challenge myself in different areas and I felt like I could come back over here and withstand the rigors of the International Hockey League. I knew it was a good league; I knew there were a lot of guys that I had played with before. It was just the challenge of doing that and playing the North American game again that enticed me into coming back.”
Lambert spent five seasons in the IHL with Cleveland and Houston, and he was part of another championship team with the 1998-99 Houston Aeros. It was also during his days in the IHL that Lambert realized he had the coaching bug.
“It was a little bit before that, certainly in Cleveland,” says Lambert. “But when I got to Houston I was able to play for [Phoenix coach] Dave Tippett. I had known Dave Tippett; we’re both from Saskatchewan. But it was then that I started to know that that is what I wanted to do.”
During his playing days in the IHL, Lambert never saw himself as a Reg Dunlop type of figure, but a recent encounter with an old teammate leads him to believe that maybe his younger teammates did see a bit of the old Slapshot movie character in him.
“It’s funny, I saw an old teammate from those days at the [2014 NHL] draft, Richard Park,” recalls Lambert. “He went on to have a great career and played 19 years and is just retiring now. He laughed because when he came into Cleveland as a rookie, he said, ‘Man, I thought you were old!’
“I didn’t feel like I was Reg Dunlop, but maybe some of those guys did. I really liked playing with the younger players and sharing my experiences and helping them grow and learn. When I was captain at Houston near the end of my career, it was one of the things I relished. I knew right away that I wanted to get into coaching and went right away after playing to coaching in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. It’s been a steady stream of hockey, playing and then coaching, things that you love to do.”
Lambert spent a season and part of another as an assistant in Moose Jaw, then two as the head coach in Prince George of the WHL. After two seasons as an assistant in the AHL, he took over the reins of Nashville’s AHL Milwaukee club in 2007-08. Lambert spent four seasons piloting the Admirals, earning 41 or more victories and a playoff berth in each of those seasons. He spent the last three seasons assisting Trotz in Nashville, and he’ll begin his 13th season in the coaching game this fall here in Washington.
“I don’t think that I’ve been involved in a staff that has had that much experience,” says Lambert of the Caps’ coaching staff. “It’s exciting. Barry has been through a lot of different situations and scenarios, a lot of different things that he has seen and experienced, and it’s always exciting to be involved with someone like that. With [fellow assistants] Todd [Reirden] and Blaine [Forsythe], it’s going to be great working together as a staff. We feel Mitch Korn is one of the best goalie coaches in the league, if not the best. He’s got a tremendous amount of experience himself. It’s good. It’s a real good staff.”
With the Caps’ annual summer development camp earlier this month, the team’s new coaching staff had a chance to spend some time together and develop some chemistry among themselves.
“It’s a great opportunity to do that here,” says Lambert of development camp. “We’ve come in this weekend and we’ve established that already. We’ve talked hockey, gone for dinner, talked personal life and all that.
“People in the game of hockey are such great people. I played against Todd Reirden in 1996, ’97, ’98 and ’99. It’s a small community. Generally there are really good people involved in the game. I think the chemistry side of it is well on its way already and I think it’s going to be great.”
Like most of his fellow staff members, Lambert is a hockey lifer. He hasn’t drawn a paycheck from outside the game since he was a teenager.
“I’m blessed in the fact that I can tell you that I worked at the Shell station in Swift Current when I was 17 years old, and at a golf course,” remembers Lambert. “Hockey has been very good to me and certainly I’ve taken nothing for granted along the way. I’ve tried to give back to the game and be good to the game and the people in the game.”