When one person steps down, another is sure to take their place.
And that’s exactly what happened Monday at Prospera Place, as longtime assistant coach Dan Lambert was named the new head coach of the Kelowna Rockets following Ryan Huska’s departure to the Calgary Flames organization.
“To get an opportunity to be a head coach of the Kelowna Rockets is a great honour,” says Lambert.
“I certainly have some big shoes to fill, but I’m going to look at this as a challenge. This is an exciting day, not only for myself but for my whole family.”
Lambert has been with the team for the past five seasons as Huska’s top assistant and now becomes the franchises eighth head coach. He enjoyed a stellar playing career in both junior hockey – winning a Memorial Cup with Swift Current in 1989 – and in professional leagues around the world for 19 seasons.
He says the table has already been set for the next season and he’ll continue to do many of the same things that made the Rockets so successful under Huska’s tutelage.
“When I was hired here five years ago, I think (team president/GM Bruce Hamilton) had a plan. Assuming if everything went according to plan, I was going to be Ryan’s successor and it's pretty amazing that great people move on in life and I think great businesses always have a secondary plan and I think this was (their) plan all along.”
Lambert says he has grown as a young coach under Huska and progressed even more with Canada’s World Under-17 team.
“I did it for a short training camp and then helped in the process of picking the team, and then going to the tournament. Then I knew I was ready,” say Lambert.
“And that gave me the confidence for sure to be able to move forward here and hopefully having success in Kelowna.”
Both coaching changes happened quickly, as Huska received a call from the Flames last week gauging his interest in the position.
“I did one phone interview, then I went to Calgary last Thursday. From there, they called on Friday morning when I got home and offered me the job,” he says.
“We were thrilled, and I had a feeling that if they were interested, this would be a great spot for us to go.”
Huska, who will be moving his family to Great Falls, New York (home of the AHL’s Adirondack Flames) says it will be hard to leave the Rockets organization, who he referred to as family.
“And that’s why it’s hard,” he says.
“Then you factor in some of your emotion with your kids and them moving for the first time. That’s where the challenge comes – you want to make sure they’re happy and safe and looking forward to the new opportunity.”
Lambert meanwhile said he got "the call" on Sunday evening.
He calls his new position a "development job" with the Flames, and a step towards his goal of coaching in the NHL.
“I guess my main responsibility is to work with the people in Calgary in an effort to try and get their guys ready to play for the Calgary Flames. I feel really comfortable with their staff and look forward to learning from Bob Hartley and his crew, and really getting ourselves there and learning how to coach a different age group.”
Huska insists he never applied for the job or sent out resumes, but admits he listens to everything that comes across his desk and felt this was the right time for a change.
“We found a group, or an organization that really fit with what we believe and we felt that it was the right time for us to go.”
Both men have a lot of work ahead of them. The Rockets are now searching for an assistant coach and the Flames are looking to stockpile players at the NHL entry draft, being held this coming weekend.