Poring over résumés for one of the organization’s most important roles was one of the last duties Bruce Hamilton expected to be performing this summer.
As it is, the Kelowna Rockets’ president and GM is in the process of searching for a new head coach for his defending Western Hockey League champs.
Dan Lambert, who spent one season at the helm of the Rockets, left the club this week to take on an assistant coaching job with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
“I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but I’m very happy for Dan that he’s moving on,” Hamilton said. “It would have been great to keep him around another year or two, I think he could have benefitted from a little more time here, but the allure of the NHL was there for him.
“We’re in the business of moving people on and certainly aren’t going to stand in his way. I wish Dan well in his new job.”
There has been no shortage of interest for what has to be considered one of the top jobs in the Canadian Hockey League.
Hamilton said he has already had more than 40 applications, and hopes to have a shortlist of four to eight candidates by next week.
Hamilton added that Rockets assistants Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard aren’t being considered for the job due to lack of experience, as both were rookies on the team’s staff last season.
Hamilton is confident he will be able to hire a qualified coach who will carry on the standard the Rockets have set over the last decade-plus.
“There are lots of people who would love to have this job and we’re going to be diligent in who we select,” Hamilton said. “We don’t need a culture change here, we need someone who will come and fit into the process we already have in place.
“Certainly a coach with his own ideas is welcome, but we don’t need a shock therapist. There’s no reason to change what we have going here.”
Lambert, who guided the Rockets to within a goal of the Memorial Cup title this spring, didn’t take his decision to move on lightly.
“This was a decision that was very difficult to make,” Lambert said Monday in a press release. “I’d like to thank Bruce Hamilton and the Hamilton family, and Lorne Frey for giving me an opportunity six years ago to become part of the Rocket family.
“I would like to thank Ryan Huska, Kim Dillabaugh, Kim Gellert and Ryan Cuthbert for the awesome working environment that was created in the coach’s room. And to all the staff for my first year as a head coach. What a run we had.”
Hired in 2009, Lambert spent six seasons with the Rockets, the first five as an assistant to Ryan Huska.
In his only season as head coach, Lambert led Kelowna to a 53-15-5-1 regular season record, the B.C. Division, Western Conference and Western Hockey League titles.
At the Memorial Cup in Quebec City, Lambert and the Rockets reached the championship game where they lost a heartbreaker, 2-1 in overtime to the Oshawa Generals.
Lambert is currently in Buffalo attending the Sabres’ development camp.
Lambert and new Sabres’ head man Dan Bylsma share a history, having played together in the International Hockey League for parts of three seasons during the 1990s.
Bylsma also dropped in on the Rockets this past March to visit with Lambert and help conduct a number of the team’s practises.
At the time, Byslma spoke of a mutual respect and rapport between the two coaches.
“We’ve spent a lot of time conversing and talking about the game and coaching over the last three years,” said Bylsma.
“I think at times Dan has called me as a guy that has coached a little longer than him and had different experiences. But at the same time I have talked to Dan and gotten his experiences and learned from him as a coach as well.”
Hamilton said the Rockets are hoping to name a replacement for Lambert by the end of the month.