When his country calls, Dan Lambert answers.
For the second year in a row, the Kelowna Rockets’ bench boss will serve as a head coach at the World Under 17 Challenge. The 2014 version of the annual international tournament begins Saturday in Sarnia and Lambton, Ont.
“Whenever you get any chance in any fashion to represent your country, it’s an honour and there’s certainly a sense of pride in that,” Lambert said from Sarnia. “I feel blessed that (Hockey Canada) thought of me in this way and that I’m getting another opportunity to do this.”
Under a new format this year, there are three Canadian teams with Lambert serving at the helm of Team Red. In 2013 in Quebec, Lambert worked behind the bench of Team West.
“The tournament is very different from last year when I was coaching Manitoba-Saskatchewan players,” Lambert said. “They’ve put together three very goods teams from all across Canada. It will be exciting to see what we can do.”
The Hockey Canada tournament, which runs from Nov. 1 to 8, also features teams from Russia, Sweden, Finland, U.S., and Slovakia. Lambert’s team will face Russia Friday in a pre-tournament game, before officially opening the event on Sunday against Slovakia.
During Lambert’s absence in Kelowna, a pair of first-year WHL coaches will handle the reins for the Rockets. Assistant Kris Mallette has been elevated to interim head coach, while goaltending coach Travis Crickard steps up to first assistant.
The duo kicks off its six-game, 10-day stint on Thursday night in Portland against the Winterhawks.
For Mallette, it’s an opportunity he’s grateful to be getting so early in his major junior coaching career. “Obviously, it’s an honour to be taking over, even if it is for a fairly short period of time,” said Mallette, 35. “It’s another step in the progression of ultimately where I want to be as a coach.
“It’s a lot of hockey in a short time and a chance for Travis and I to show we’re capable. This is what we want to do and what we’re striving for in the game.”
Mallette is filling the same role Lambert did for a couple of years in Kelowna when then-head coach Ryan Huska departed to work with Canada’s world junior team.
Based on the groundwork that’s been laid over the years by previous coaches and by Lambert, Mallette said there won’t be much tweaking done during his and Crickard’s brief tenure.
“What’s already in place is huge for us,” Mallette said. “Kelowna has built some pretty concrete systems in the way their teams are expected to play, so I don’t think anything is going to change with us in there.
“There are 16 or 17 veterans on this team who have played two, three, four years here, so I expect things on the ice to be pretty seamless.”
The No. 1 ranked Rockets return to action Saturday with the second of two straight games against the Winterhawks, followed by a visit to Vancouver Sunday to meet the Giants.
Kelowna (12-1-0) is back home Wednesday, Nov. 5 to face the Victoria Royals.
Very little rubber found its way past Kelowna Rockets’ netminder Jackson Whistle in his team’s last two WHL games.
As a result, the 19-year-old West Kelowna product has been named the Canadian Hockey League’s goaltender of the week.
Whistle posted a 2-0-0 record with a 0.50 goals against average and save percentage of 98.1 for the week ending Oct. 26.