Denny Lambert is heading behind the bench of a junior hockey franchise in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Lambert, a 44-year-old Ojibwe, who played in more than 500 National Hockey League games, was hired as the head coach of the Batchewana Attack. The Attack, a Junior A franchise, will compete in the new Canadian International Hockey League (CIHL).
"This is great for me," Lambert told ICTMN. "It doesn't disrupt my family life or my work schedule. And I just want to pass on everything I've learned as a player and as a coach."
The Attack will play its home contests on First Nation land, at Rankin Arena, which is located in Sault Ste. Marie.
Lambert is no stranger to hockey fans in the northern Ontario town. Before embarking on his own pro career, he spent three seasons in the junior ranks with the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Lambert went on to play in 504 NHL games, suiting up for the Anaheim Ducks, Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers. Known primarily for his physical play, Lambert, a forward, amassed 1,419 penalty minutes in those contests. He was also credited with 94 points, including 27 goals.
After his playing days ended in 2003, Lambert joined the Greyhounds as an assistant coach. He stayed with the organization for eight seasons, the final three as head coach before being fired midway through the 2010-11 campaign.
Since being let go from the Greyhounds, Lambert went to police college and worked briefly as an officer for the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation. But now he's employed as an emergency response officer at the Essar Steel plant in Sault Ste. Marie.
Lambert was also looking to get back into coaching in his hometown this coming season. He applied to be the head coach for a Bantam squad, which includes his twin 14-year-old sons, Denver and Chase.
"Don't ask me how or why, but they turned me down," Lambert said of local youth hockey officials. "It's just bizarre."
But David Maciuk, who is the Attack president and director of hockey operations, had no hesitations bringing Lambert on board.
"He was the guy we wanted right from the beginning," Maciuk said. "He's our guy to coach this team."
Lambert is pleased to see a couple of other former NHL players will also be coaching in the new league this season.
Dennis Maruk, who appeared in 922 NHL games, will guide the Milton Battle Arts Cobras. And Tom McCarthy, who played in 528 NHL contests, will coach the Espanola Rivermen.
"That's a great sign for the league," Lambert said. "They're going after the right people."
Now, Sault Ste. Marie has three junior hockey franchises.
The Greyhounds, are a Major Junior squad, the highest level for those 20 and under in Canada.
The town is also home to the Sault Ste. Marie Thunderbirds, a Junior A franchise that participates in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Lambert realizes it will be challenging for the Attack to win over some fans.
"I would imagine it's going to be tough," he said. "The Soo Greyhounds are the draw in town, there's no doubt about that. But to me, the more kids that we can develop the better it is for everybody."
Lambert said that with the creation of the Attack, more local athletes can now play junior hockey in their hometown instead of leaving home to toil for Toronto-area teams, which is about seven hours away.
As a Junior A club, the Attack is not sanctioned by Hockey Canada, and CIHL teams are not eligible to play against other Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) franchises.
The CJHL is an umbrella group for 10 Junior A circuits across Canada.
The CIHL, however, is a member of the United Hockey Union, which consists of four independent leagues in North America.