Good guy Denny Lambert — who played hockey at its highest level as the consummate overachiever — is making a return to the game.
The well-liked Lambert, a Wawa native who has called Sault Ste. Marie home for a number of years, has been named head coach of the Batchewana Attack of the new Canadian International Hockey League.
Batchewana president David Maciuk and general manager Dennis Bolton both confirmed the hiring of Lambert to HockeyNewsNorth.com late Tuesday night.
Maciuk said Lambert is the coach that the Attack wanted all along.
“Denny was was our target from the get go and we didn’t waiver,” said Maciuk. “What a great fit.”
Bolton, as GM, touched on what the hiring of Lambert brings to the new junior team.
“The Batchewana Attack strongly believes that with the hiring of Denny we have secured the services of an experienced coach who truly exemplifies the qualities and characteristics we believe are essential in the development of the culture we envision for this team and the CIHL,” said Bolton.
“Denny is a family-oriented person with a sincere desire to give back to the game and the community he loves. His maturity and patience will prove valuable in the development of our players both on and off the ice,” Bolton added.
In between playing for and coaching in the Ontario Hockey League with Soo Greyhounds, the 44-year old Lambert skated in more than 500 National Hockey League games as a hard-toiling left winger with Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers.
A crowd favourite wherever he played because of his robust, relentless style of play, Lambert toughed it out to play in 504 NHL games despite scoring only 27 career goals.
Notably, he racked up 1,419 penalty minutes in his 504 NHL games.
Never drafted into the OHL or the NHL, Lambert made a name for himself as a team-first, never-say-die enforcer who did not back down from anyone despite being modestly built at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds.
Following the end of his playing career in 2003, Lambert returned to the Soo as an assistant coach with the Greyhounds, for whom he had played from 1988 until 1991.
Lambert spent five seasons as an assistant with the Greyhounds before being elevated to head coach in 2008. He served as head coach of the Greyhounds for the full 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons but was fired by then-general manager Dave Torrie 40 games into the 2010-2011 campaign.
As head coach of the Greyhounds, Lambert posted a record of 69-93-14 and led the Soo into the OHL playoffs in 2009-2010.
Married to wife Rhonda with two sons, Lambert works full-time at Essar Steel in the Soo. He is also a trained police officer.
In agreeing to coach the Batchewana entry in the CIHL that will play out of Rankin Arena on First Nation land in Sault Ste. Marie, Lambert becomes part of a new Ontario-based junior league that has eight teams committed for the 2014-2015 campaign.
Lambert also becomes the latest seasoned veteran of both the OHL and the NHL to be hired as a head coach of a CIHL team.
Tom McCarthy will coach the Espanola Rivermen and Dennis Maruk will be bench boss of the Milton Battle Arts Cobras.
As Lambert played in 504 NHL games, McCarthy suited up for 528 while Maruk played in 922 matches at the big-league level.
WHAT DENNY IS SAYING
From his end, Lambert is excited to be coaching again at the junior level — and without having to move away from Sault Ste. Marie.
“This is good…I have a really good feeling about this,” Lambert said about being hired to coach the new Batchewana junior team in the CIHL. “The Soo is our home and we have no intention of leaving here.
“I am looking forward to working with and developing young hockey players,” he continued. “To be able to be involved in the local hockey community and pass on lessons that I learned from playing in the NHL and coaching in the OHL and life in general is something I want to share.”
Lambert had hoped to coach his 14-year old twin sons, Chase and Denver, within the Sault Major Hockey Association ranks this season but his offer to coach their AA bantam team was turned down.
“(Sault Major) never did tell me why they did not accept my application,” Lambert said evenly. “Oh well, that door closed and this opportunity to coach junior hockey with the Batchewana Attack in a new league opened. Maybe it was meant to be this way.”
Lambert, who is a member of Batchewana First Nation, said he “can’t wait” to get started in his new position.
“I like working with kids and I want to pass on the hockey knowledge that I gained from coaches who I worked with and played for, guys like Ted Nolan, Barry Trotz, Jacques Martin, Walt Kyle and Craig Hartsburg.
“I like the vision of the CIHL and what it stands for and I am really looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experiences with the kids who I will be coaching.
“This is so, so exciting,” said Lambert, a man who has worked hard for everything he has achieved in life.
PHOTO: Denny Lambert, formerly of the OHL Soo Greyhounds, has been hired as head coach of the Batchewana Attack of the CIHL.