Triple Tambellini
by Andrew Podnieks|16 FEB 2022
A third-generation Tambellini, Adam leads the Olympics in scoring with seven points in four games.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Canada has produced some incredible families for the NHL, notably the Sutters, Patricks, Hextalls, and Staals among many others. But internationally, one name stands tall – Tambellini. 

Adolph “Addie” Tambellini was born in a small town in British Columbia called Trail. Just a few kilometres north of the U.S. border, it is also about 600 kms east of Vancouver in the province’s interior. Despite its remote location, some 19 NHL players have been born here, most recently Landon Ferraro, who is with Team Canada in Beijing but has yet to play. 

Addie Tambellini wasn’t one of them. He tried his hand at the pro game, but it didn’t work out, so he returned home to Trail and played senior hockey with the local Smoke Eaters. They had a very good team, and went to the Allan Cup finals in 1960 before losing to the Chatham (Ontario) Maroons. The Maroons weren’t able to represent Canada at the next year’s World Championship in Switzerland, as was tradition, so the Smoke Eaters went. They beat all comers and won gold.

Who knew then it would be 33 years before the Canada would win again? 

Addie scored two goals that year, both in a 9-1 win over West Germany, but his three-year-old son, Steve, was too young to appreciate the achievement. Addie played again at the 1963 and 1967 tournaments, being named to the all-star team as a forward in the former and winning bronze in the latter. In all, he had 13 goals and 20 points in 19 World Championship games. 

Later in the 1960s, Addie was hired by the club team in Klagenfurt to be the general manager and playing-coach in the Austrian league, and that led to his playing at the Spengler Cup. 

“I believe he was loaned by his team in Austria to play in the tournament,” Steve recalled years later. “I’m pretty sure they played on an outdoor rink then.”

By this time, Steve was starting to play hockey, and as good fortune had it he developed into an NHL-calibre player in the coming decade. He was drafted by the New York Islanders 15th overall in 1978, just a few months after playing at the World Junior Championship alongside Wayne Gretzky and winning a bronze medal on home ice. And as more good fortune would have it, the Islanders were just about to start a run of four Stanley Cups in a row. Steve was on the Cup team in 1980 but was traded to the lowly Colorado Rockies midway through the following season. 

Steve later played at the 1981 World Championship, again having Gretzky as a teammate, and he also played at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. In the NHL, Steve went on to play in New Jersey, Calgary, and Vancouver, before ending his career with a brief foray in Europe. 

Steve and his wife, Denise, had two sons. Jeff was born in Calgary in 1984, while Steve was playing for the Flames, and Adam was born more than a decade later, in Edmonton. Jeff played at the 2004 World Juniors, helping the team win a silver medal. He was the first of the third generation of his family to play for Canada, and he called grandpa to ask for some advice before flying to Finland for that year’s U20.

"[Addie] told me about the atmosphere over there, how they were treated, and the adversity they went through to win those games," Jeff said at the time. "When I was young, he had all the medals and all the trophies from himself and my dad down in the basement, and I got to see a lot of the stuff and the things you get playing in these tournaments. It’s pretty special. There aren’t too many people who can say that have three generations in the game, especially at this level."

In addition to the U20 experience, Jeff also later played at the Spengler Cup, like his granddad. He had an extensive career that took him to three NHL teams – Los Angeles, Vancouver, and the Islanders – as well as various teams in the AHL, finishing his career in Sweden.

Because of the age difference between the brothers, Adam wasn’t drafted until 2013, 65th overall by the New York Rangers, while he was playing junior hockey for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL. After turning pro, Adam played in the AHL for several years but since 2019 he has been in Sweden’s top league, first with MODO Ornskoldsvik and currently with Rogle Angelholm. 

“He was the guy for me,” said Adam of Jeff when his older brother first turned pro. “I always idolized him, watching him through juniors and college and on to pro as well, just someone I could always talk to and look up to...Obviously with the big age gap, we never really got to play against each other competitively. He was probably my biggest idol growing up, and to be around the room, going with him in junior and getting to go see him play in Michigan and with Vancouver and with the Islanders as well, it’s something that not a lot of people get to do. I was pretty thankful for it.”

When the NHL pulled out of Beijing participation and Hockey Canada had to go to Plan B, the 27-year-old Tambellini was front and centre for the Olympic team. The interest was three-fold – in part because of his play in Sweden; in part because management knew him from the 2020 Spengler Cup; and in part because he has one of the hardest shots in the game, any league, any country. 

Adam is now the second member of the family’s third generation of Tambellini’s to represent Canada. Addie passed away in 2004, but his dad and brother are very much following his fortunes in China. These reached a crescendo last night in the qualifying elimination game against the hosts. Adam scored two goals – one on a penalty shot – and added three assists, and he now leads the tournament in scoring with seven points.

“It was surreal,” Adam enthused after being named to Team Canada last month. “To get the call to be on the Canadian Olympic team is something you dream of, but you don’t believe it’s going to happen. Special circumstances made that happen, and I’m really excited to be a part of that group. It’s amazing, and so special with all the Canadian history at the Olympics. It’s surreal, and I’m really excited to be a part of the group and get it all started in China.”