Two years and two professional stops later, the 47-year-old St. Boniface, MB native is back in major junior hockey, this time behind the bench of the Spokane Chiefs.
On Wednesday night, Lambert will get a whole new perspective of his former team when the Chiefs play host to the Rockets at the Spokane Arena.
“I have to view it as just another game, but there will be some emotion attached to it for sure,” said Lambert, who spent seven seasons as an assistant coach for the Rockets before taking the reins in 2014-15. “I’ll have to get used to seeing Rockets’ jerseys in a different way now. It’s going to be special for sure, especially when we go into Kelowna for the first time.
“They were special times,” he added, “but for the players, it should just be another game.”
In his eight seasons in Kelowna, Lambert formed more than a few bonds, particularly with athletic therapist Scott Hoyer and, in his final season, with rookie assistant coaches Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard.
Lambert and his colleagues all had a hand in leading the Rockets to the WHL championship in 2015 and a trip to Quebec City for the Canadian Hockey League championship.
Lambert said it was an experience that he’ll never forget and one that had a role in shaping him as a coach.
“We were pretty much a rookie staff that year, and it was sort of a learn-as-you-go situation,” said Lambert, who spent one season with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and another with the AHL’s Rochester Americans after leaving Kelowna. “It was a rocky road for awhile, but our new players (Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey) settled in and we went on to have a great year.
“I’d like to think I’ve grown as coach since,” Lambert added. “I got to learn from my experiences and work with some smart, intelligent hockey people. I haven’t changed as a person, but hopefully I’ve matured as a coach.”
Kris Mallette, now in his fourth year as an assistant in Kelowna, said his one season working with Lambert was a formative and memorable phase of his coaching career.
“We were expected to win that year, we went through a lot together, and to see how we dealt with it and overcame the challenges to be successful is something you remember,” said Mallette. “It was a good experience to work under Dan.
“He’s a coach that’s very passionate, but I think his biggest strength is his ability to relate to and communicate with the players. He cares and that goes a long way in holding the guys accountable and getting them to play as a team.”
“Dan is just one of those guys who is a real nice person, we think of him more as a friend and we’re glad he landed on his feet,” said Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton. “He’ll do a real good job there in Spokane, he’s got a chance to coach a pretty good team, so I expect he’ll do well with them.”
Lambert and the Chiefs will visit Kelowna for the first time on Wednesday, Jan. 10.
Rockets forwards Dillon Dube (upper body) and Jack Cowell (lower) are expected back in the lineup Wednesday when Kelowna visits the Chiefs. Both were missing from the lineup in the Rockets’ 6-1 loss Saturday in Vancouver.
Also absent were forwards Kole Lind (virus) and Nolan Foote (upper body) who remain sidelined on a day-to-day basis and won’t play before the weekend.
Forward Erik Gardiner continues to be week-to-week with a head injury suffered when he blocked a shot Oct. 27 against the Tri-City Americans.
“If we have (Gardiner) back by Christmas, I think we’d be happy,” said Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton.
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