Lambert in lion’s clothing
by Derek O'Brien|08 AUG 2019
Brad Lambert didn’t score against Canada but helped Finland reach the semi-finals with a hat trick against Switzerland.
photo: Werner Krainbucher
In a game that Finland had to win to advance to the semi-finals of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, 15-year-old Brad Lambert took the bull by the horns and scored his first three goals of the tournament, propelling his team to a 6-0 win over Switzerland at the U18 tournament. With each goal, he celebrated with a leg kick and arm pump, somewhat reminiscent of goal celebrations in the 1980s.

“It just came, I guess,” Lambert laughed after the game. “I mean, I couldn’t score there for a few days so it was a bit of a relief.”

Apparently, the distinct celebration had not previously been part of his repertoire. When asked if he’ll keep doing it, he answered while still laughing: “I think I will, yeah.”

To some, it was a surprise that Lambert was playing in the game at all. In the third period of Finland’s second group-stage game against the Czech Republic, he fell awkwardly into the boards and seemed to be in a fair bit of pain. He didn’t return that game, but it was apparently precautionary as his team had a big lead.

“It just hurt at the moment but it was fine after,” Lambert dismissed.

At just 15 years and seven months old, Lambert is the second-youngest player at this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup – only Slovakia’s Simon Nemec is younger. His December 2003 birth means that he won’t be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2022.

“I thought I had a chance to make it if I play the way I can. It wasn’t really a surprise,” Lambert said of his selection to the team. 

“We’d had him already in some past tournaments, so we knew him pretty well and we weren’t nervous at all,” Finnish assistant coach Antti Miettinen said about selecting such a young player for the team. 

Age is not the only way Brad Lambert stands out on the team. His name doesn’t come across as typically Finnish, although it does lend itself to puns on the national team’s nickname. 

“My mother’s Finnish and my father’s Canadian,” said Lambert. 

His father is Ross Lambert, a hockey player like his two brothers Dale and Lane, who hail from Saskatchewan. Uncle Lane played 283 NHL games for the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques between 1983 and 1989. Cousin Jimmy is about to enter his sophomore season with the University of Michigan Wolverines hockey team. 

Jimmy even had some advice on Twitter when he saw a picture of a stoic-looking Brad:
“We’re pretty close,” Lambert said of himself and his cousin. “We’re far away during the season but we keep in contact, and we meet sometimes in the summer and hang out.”

Despite being a dual citizen, to Lambert the choice was clear as to which national team he would represent. 

“I was born in Finland and only played in Canada for one year,” he explained. “If I wanted to play for the Canadian national team, I think I would have to play two, so it seemed like a natural choice.” 

Nonetheless, the opening game of the tournament against Canada was something special for Lambert. 

“It was nice to play against the Canadians for the first time but it didn’t quite go the way I wanted,” he said after the 6-0 loss. He then foreshadowed: “I think the goals will come. It’s just a matter of time.”

After playing a season of Bantam AA in Saskatoon, Lambert has spent the last two seasons with the Lahti Pelicans, progressing through their U16, U18 and U20 teams. He also played for Finland’s U16 and U17 national teams. This off-season, he could have gone back to Canada to play junior hockey but instead chose to transfer to one of Finland’s most prestigious and historic clubs, IFK Helsinki.

“I think this was the best choice for my development,” he said. “Helsinki gave me a lot of good stuff and the national team program here is great. I get to play a lot of games with the national team here at different levels, and if I was in Canada that wouldn’t be possible.”

With IFK, he might get a chance to play with Anton Lundell, a top prospect for next year’s NHL Draft. “I got to meet Anton – he’s a great guy. That was pretty cool.”

Lambert is probably pegged to start the season where he finished last year with Lahti, in Finland’s Junior A SM-liiga. He was asked about the possibility of playing in the Liiga, Finland’s top pro league. 

“I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes,” Lambert said about playing professional hockey at this stage. “Like I said, we’re taking it one day at a time and trying to get better every day.”

“I don’t think he’s quite ready for that yet,” said Miettinen, a former NHLer who is currently an assistant coach in the Liiga with HPK Hameenlinna. After a thoughtful pause, he added: “Of course, things can change during the season. Players with that kind of talent, sometimes they take two or three steps at a time and suddenly make some huge improvement, so you never know. But I don’t think he’ll start the season there.”

Elaborating on Lambert’s game, Miettinen said: “His skating and his poise with the puck are pretty good – really good for someone his age. You can see the talent and he wants to score goals and points and make things happen on the ice, but at the same time, he’s a young boy and it’s only human that some of the defensive things and the structure isn’t there, but some of that will come later on.

“He’s got that mind for the game, where he just knows what’s happening out there. He’s got that offensively and once he gets that defensively, he’s going to be a really good player.”

“I think my skating and stickhandling skills are my strengths,” Lambert self-evaluated. “Obviously, I’m 15 so I need to improve on my strength and shooting.”

Turning his attention back to the immediate future, Lambert said of this current Finnish U18 team: “We’ve got a lot of great players here and I think we can go far in this tournament.”

By finishing second in Group A, the Finns now cross over to play Russia, the winner of Group B, in one of Friday’s semi-finals. And then maybe another shot at Canada in the final?

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” he smiled. “We have a day off here, then Russia’s obviously gonna be really good. They’ve got an unbelievable goalie and it’ll be a tough game, but I think we can beat them.”