Bob Hartley's recruitment of Jeff Tambellini started early. Hartley had accepted a two-year deal to coach the ZSC Lions of Switzerland's National League A last year and needed a star import. First he left a message with Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini, while Jeff's Vancouver Canucks were still in the playoffs last spring. When he finally got ahold of Jeff, he made his pitch.
"He was pushing really hard," Jeff Tambellini said on Monday evening. "[Switzerland] was definitely an option I hadn't considered before."
Hartley assured him of one thing: Follow the coach to Zurich and they would win big. It must have been convincing, because Tambellini signed a three-year deal.
In December, the Lions were barely in the final playoff spot and looked nothing like a championship team, so you can't blame Tambellini if he started to question the decision.
"He promised me from day one that we were going to win. We were still laughing in the middle of December when I'm like, 'We're still going to do this, eh?'" Tambellini said.
They did. In the final seconds of Game 7 of the finals, former Chicago Blackhawks first-round pick Steve McCarthy buried a shot that won it all for the Lions. The win gave Hartley title rings in the Swiss league, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, American Hockey League and, of course, the NHL.
"The man wins championships," Tambellini said.
It's why he now should be a must-interview for teams with a coaching opening. He's close friends with Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster, who has an opening at head coach, and Hartley returned home to Montreal last week, where the Canadiens job might provide the perfect fit. He joins Joel Quenneville and Marc Crawford as possible candidates in a Canadiens coaching candidate pool that could reach seven or eight.
When we spoke Monday night, Hartley declined to comment on any of the NHL jobs but shared insight into just how his underdog team in Switzerland won a title his first year on the job. It's a story that shows why he should be back behind an NHL bench.
"Nobody saw us coming," he said.
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