Former NHL forward Jeff Tambellini may be retiring from pro hockey, but he seems to have his next career already planned out. The University of Michigan revealed tonight that Tambellini will return to campus to finish his degree and has been named an “undergraduate assistant coach”. Tambellini himself has yet to recognize his retirement, but may never actually do so in any official capacity.
Normally, “graduate assistant coach” is a title given to recent grads helping out with their alma mater’s program in some way. Tambellini’s new title of “undergraduate assistant coach” is almost unheard of, but fitting for the former All-American who left Michigan a year early after three dominant seasons. He returns to finish his degree with over a decade of pro hockey experience under his belt.
A first-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2003, there were high expectations of Tambellini that only increased with each collegiate season. Yet, once he turned pro, the small, speedy forward struggled to skate around the opposition like he could in the NCAA. The Kings traded him to the Islanders after only four games with the team, sending he and Denis Grebeshkov to New York for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel. Tambellini carved out a bottom-six/AHL depth role for himself on the island and played for New York for four more seasons, accumulating 46 points in 176 games. Tambellini played his final NHL season in 2010-11 with the Vancouver Canucks, posting a career-best 17 points and +10 rating in 62 games and playing in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
Since then, Tambellini has had an up-and-down experience as a globe-trotting veteran. He was a force to reckon with in his first pro season outside the NHL, scoring 45 points in 50 games with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss NLA. Injuries limited his production in his second season with the Lions, so he moved on to Sweden, where he played well for MODO. He again struggled in the following year, splitting his time between the SHL and NLA, but not finding results in either location. 2015-16 marked an attempted NHL comeback, as Tambellini signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite impressive production in the AHL, Tambellini did not see any NHL action and headed back to Sweden last season, where he struggled mightily and, at the age of 33, likely decided it was time to hand up his skates.
However, his new opportunity with the Wolverines should allow Jeff to follow in his father’s footsteps. Steve Tambellini played ten years in the NHL, but is likely best known for his later work off the ice. Steve was the GM of the Edmonton Oilers from 2008 to 2013 and also previously worked for the Vancouver Canucks and Team Canada. He is currently a scout for the Anaheim Ducks. While Jeff seems to be heading more in a coaching route rather than toward a front office future, it is clear that hockey intelligence runs in the family and Jeff could have a shot a great coaching career, beginning with his return to Ann Arbor this season. Who knows, if coaching is a great fit for Jeff, he may end up back in the NHL, this time behind the bench, before little brother Adam Tambellini, a New York Rangers prospect, makes it to the big time himself.