Lambert Guides Young Team to Success
Apr 12, 2011
by Jason Karnosky
Success in the American Hockey League starts with great coaching.
Each team is made up of prospects, National Hockey League veterans and career minor leaguers, therefore an AHL coach must remain the steadying influence, guiding their clubs to victories while overcoming the rigors of an 80-game season.
In 2010-2011, no bench boss meant more to their team or to their National Hockey League organization than Milwaukee Admirals coach Lane Lambert. Despite carrying roster that included just two of the team’s top 11 scorers from the previous year, Lambert guided the youth-laden Admirals to a 44-win and 102-point campaign, earning the top spot in the AHL’s Western Conference.
“It’s been fun to coach this year’s team because our guys come to work every day, ready and willing to improve,” Lambert said. “The credit for our success goes to the players and the efforts they put in to this point.”
Competing in, and winning, the West Division where the top seven spots were separated by less than ten points for a majority of the season, Lambert had to preach an aggressive and tenacious style from day one or face the prospect of having his team swept away by the pack.
“There were no easy games or any freebie wins, which was a good thing for our team and our organization,” Lambert said. “With the divisional race being as tight as it was for so long, it made the season that much more demanding because every team had to grind it out until the end.”
Milwaukee’s longest losing streak was just four games (From November 19-November 23). Meanwhile, the Admirals managed three winning streaks of four games or more, highlighted by a 5-game string of victories from January 28 to February 5.
Though the AHL’s 2011 Coach of the Year Award was won by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s John Hynes, it is hard to argue than anyone was more deserving of the honor than Lambert. The Admirals coach spent time with each one of his players at an individual level, pushing them to get better. As Lambert encouraged development, Milwaukee continued to improve as a team.
With first-year North American professional Linus Klasen, Lambert drilled the forward to be more responsible on his end of the ice.
“Coach helped me with a lot of little things in the defensive zone,” Klasen said. “He worked a lot with my positioning, getting me to be in the right place and to move pucks out of the zone.”
In the case of Steve Begin, Lambert encouraged the 12-year NHL veteran to expand on his arsenal of offensive talents.
“This year I’ve worked on things that I haven’t spent much time on over the last few years, especially playing on the power play,” Begin said. “I’ve been working on being more patient with the puck, using good communication and seeing where our guys are on the ice.”
For goaltender Mark Dekanich, Lambert delegated the details of training his starting netminder to goalie coach Ben Venderklok.
“Most of the time, (Lambert) lets me do my own thing, Dekanich said. “He has enough to worry about with all of the other guys.”
However, Lambert most impressive project was the development of Nashville’s prized prospect Blake Geoffrion. Lambert guided Geoffrion from being a non-factor on the Admirals’ score sheets early in the season to becoming the AHL’s first back-to-back winner of the Player of the Week Award in 16 years.
“(Lambert) is a great coach who tried to get me to turnover to the professional game as fast as possible,” Geoffrion said. “He showed me how different things work, but he understood that it was going to time for me to catch on to everything.”
By the time Geoffrion was called up to the Nashville Predators, the rookie forward was second on the Admirals in points with 37 in 45 games played. To his credit, Geoffrion stayed with the Predators since his February 25th promotion, scoring six goals in 20 contests.
“From the start of the season to the end of the season there was a lot of improvement in the individual games of our players,” Lambert said. “Their development played (a vital) role in the success of our team.”
No one appreciates Lambert’s efforts more than Nashville General Manager David Poile.
“Lane Lambert and (assistant coach) Ian Herbers are the custodians of our prospects in Milwaukee,” Poile said. “They have ongoing and continuous conversations with our coaching staff in Nashville, but they are hands on people when it comes to working with our players.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz knows that when an Admiral is recalled to Nashville, he will get a player ready to make an impact in the NHL.
“Lane tries to get guys to play the way they need to in order to be successful in the National Hockey League,” Trotz said. “He does a tremendous job running his own show in Milwaukee.”
Trotz credits Lambert’s attention to details as a big factor in his success as a coach.
“Lane’s extremely passionate about his craft,” Trotz said. “He’s a really good teacher, has good values and is a good communicator.”
With the recent trend of promoting top AHL coaches to fill open NHL vacancies, Lambert’s name will be on a lot of franchises’ short lists in the coming years. In his four years at the helm in Milwaukee, the Admirals bench boss compiled a record of 178-103-39, never finishing with less than 41 wins or missing out on a berth in the playoffs.
Trotz believes that Lambert is ready to work at hockey’s highest level.
“There is no question in my mind that Lane will be a head coach in the National Hockey League and it may not be too far away,” Trotz said. “He’s starting to get interest from a number of teams."