Lamb ex­tend­ing his roots with Cougars

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff [email protected]­i­t­i­

Mark Lamb turned down the bright lights and big cities that come with an NHL coach­ing job to re­main with the Prince George Cougars.

The 54-year-old na­tive of Pon­teix, Sask., ended weeks of spec­u­la­tion he was on his way to re­join his good friend Dave Tip­pett, the Edmonton Oil­ers newly-hired head coach, to join the Oil­ers as Tip­pett’s as­sis­tant. In­stead, Lamb has shed the in­terim head coach tag he had with the Cougars at the end of last sea­son and in­tends to ful­fill the three re­main­ing years of a four-year con­tract he signed last sum­mer to be the gen­eral man­ager, now in a dual role as the head coach.

“I put a lot of thought into it right from when the sea­son was over and a lot had to do with the meet­ings we had af­ter the sea­son and the (orig­i­nal) plan was to move on af­ter the in­terim coach­ing part,” said Lamb.

“In this busi­ness, things change pretty quick and the Edmonton op­por­tu­nity came up and it was a great op­por­tu­nity to get back in the NHL. Even though you’ve been there be­fore (Lamb was Tip­pett’s as­sis­tant coach in Dal­las from 2002-09) it’s still a priv­i­lege to be talked about. You don’t take those op­por­tu­ni­ties lightly be­cause they might never come around again.

“But when I looked at all the things we have go­ing here, the stuff that we haven’t got go­ing yet, the fu­ture of the hockey club and the own­er­ship group we have here, I didn’t think it was the right time to make a move at this point. This is an un­real op­por­tu­nity also to build some­thing spe­cial and the vision I talked about with the own­er­ship is just some­thing I couldn’t put be­hind. Me and my fam­ily made the de­ci­sion and we’re happy with it.”

Lamb said his wife Tanya, who is from Edmonton and met Lamb when he was play­ing for the Oil­ers in the early-1990s, wanted them to stay in Prince George.

Three other WHL head coaches also han­dle the du­ties of a gen­eral man­ager – Mike Johnston (Port­land Win­ter­hawks), Brent Sutter (Red Deer Rebels), and Dean Brock­man (Swift Cur­rent Bron­cos). Lamb held both jobs in the seven sea­sons he was with the Bron­cos from 2009-16.

“I don’t think there’s any­thing dif­fi­cult about it, you’ve just got to be or­ga­nized and work hard, but the big­gest thing is you’ve got to hire the right people,” said Lamb.

“In our scout­ing we’re go­ing to re­vamp some stuff there. We need more people and more eyes watch­ing play­ers.

“We’re go­ing to hire an as­so­ciate coach, a guy with a lot of credibilit­y that is head coach ma­te­rial, that has been a head coach, that can re­ally take charge when I’m do­ing other stuff. Do­ing two jobs, it’s two ti­tles, but if you have good people around you with the same vision, you want to be chal­lenged to make your­self bet­ter and that’s what we’re go­ing to do.”

The Cougars did not re­new the con­tract of as­so­ciate coach Steve O’Rourke. O’Rourke, 44, was hired in 2016 af­ter three years as an as­sis­tant coach in Red Deer. Goal­tend­ing coach Tay­lor Dak­ers will be re­turn for a sec­ond sea­son with the Cougars.

Lamb con­firmed Nick Drazen­ovic, who served as di­rec­tor of player de­vel­op­ment, won’t be back with the Cougars, a choice made by the for­mer Cougar cap­tain. He plans to branch out and start up his own busi­ness teach­ing pri­vate lessons to mi­nor hockey and adult rec league play­ers.

A big part in Lamb’s de­ci­sion to ex­tend his du­ties with Cougars was the re­la­tion­ship he’s built over the past year with the own­er­ship group, which in­cludes lo­cals John Pate­man, Greg Po­cock, Ernest Ouel­let and Ray Fortier and for­mer Cougar de­fence­man Eric Brewer and Dan Hamhuis.

“They’re one of the main rea­sons when I talked about tak­ing the job last year – the vision and what I thought we needed to do was right in line with what they were think­ing,” said Lamb. “The work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween my­self and them has been in­cred­i­ble and it’s some­thing I don’t take for granted.

“Eric and Dan played here, but the other own­ers know this com­mu­nity. They’ve been in the guts of the busi­ness for years and they have a lot of roots here the other two don’t have. Eric and Dan are the hockey play­ers, and ev­ery­one knows who they are and it cer­tainly doesn’t hurt (player re­cruit­ment). The credibilit­y – they see where they’ve gone and the ca­reers they’ve had that started here is some­thing you can look back on and tell the other play­ers you’re try­ing to re­cruit.”

The Cougars went with a young lineup last sea­son and missed the play­offs for the sec­ond straight year. Long-suf­fer­ing Cougar fans have had to be patient with a team that hasn’t gone be­yond the first round of the play­offs since 2007, when the Cats last made it to the third round. The team has missed the post­sea­son cut in seven of the last 12 sea­sons.

Lamb left the Bron­cos in 2016 to take a head coach­ing job in the AHL with the Tuc­son Road­run­ners, the top farm team of the Ari­zona Coy­otes. The fol­low­ing sea­son the Bron­cos won the WHL cham­pi­onship. He isn’t mak­ing any guar­an­tees he’ll bring the Ed Chynoweth Cup to Prince George but he’s been around hockey long enough to know there is cause for optimism.

“I see a lot of up­side, but a lot of things have to go right to make it re­ally work and to ul­ti­mately put a team to­gether to win a cham­pi­onship at some point,” he said. “To do that you need good play­ers and draft picks and we’ve done that. Even next year, we’ve got all kinds of draft picks and we’ve got to hit on those and get guys signed. A lot of things have to come into play but po­ten­tial-wise, it’s there.”


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