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Spokane Chiefs

Coach Dan Lambert leaves Spokane Chiefs to be an assistant with NHL’s Nashville Predators

Dan Lambert, headed to the NHL with the Nashville Predators, spent two seasons as coach of the Spokane Chiefs. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Dan and Melanie Lambert took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, in May, not realizing at the time that 3 1/2 weeks later they’d be headed back.

This time, they plan to stick around.

Dan Lambert accepted an assistant coaching position with the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators, ending his two-year run as the Spokane Chiefs’ head coach. The Predators and Chiefs announced the hire Tuesday.

“We had no idea that this was gonna be an opportunity at that time,” Lambert said of their previous visit to Nashville. “Melanie is always up for a new challenge. We loved our time in Spokane. Now we get to do it all over again for another great organization in Nashville.”

Just after noon Tuesday, the cellphone of Chiefs general manager Scott Carter was already buzzing.

“I’ve had a lot of texts the last 10, 15 minutes,” Carter said. “We’ll start putting a list (of coaching candidates) together. … I certainly have a few names, knowing that this was going to happen over the last week.”

On May 21, Lambert signed a contract extension with the Chiefs, the terms of which were not disclosed. But almost immediately the Predators reached out, Lambert said.

“The next day I got the call from Nashville to see if I had any interest,” Lambert said. “I was not looking. This was not my intention at all.”

The Chiefs boasted the Western Hockey League’s best power play in the regular season (29.1%) and the playoffs (36.1%).

The Predators had the NHL’s worst at 12.9% in the regular season. In the playoffs, Nashville’s power-play unit went scoreless in 15 chances, losing a six-game, opening-round series to the Dallas Stars.

“It is an area that we certainly talked about in the interview process and an area I think they will put on my plate a little bit,” Lambert said of the power play.

There are now three former Spokane head coaches in the NHL. Bill Peters, who led the Chiefs to a Memorial Cup championship in 2008, is the head coach of the Calgary Flames.

Mike Babcock, who twice brought the Chiefs to the WHL finals between 1994 and 2000, is the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This will be Carter’s second head coaching search, after bringing in Lambert two years ago.

“If you’re successful, it’s gonna happen. It’s a good problem for us to have,” Carter said. “Just like you want your players to move on, you want your coaches to be able to move on and move up.”

Lambert coached in the NHL during the 2015-16 as an assistant with the Buffalo Sabres. He was then reassigned to the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans, where he was head coach for one year before becoming the Chiefs’ head coach.

In Lambert’s two regular seasons in Spokane, the Chiefs went 81-46-5-8 and twice reached the playoffs. This year the Chiefs reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011.

So far this offseason, Lambert is the only WHL coach to have left for an NHL coaching position.

“I’m excited for (Lambert),” Carter said. “It’s a great opportunity for him to go on and show his wares at that level. Hopefully, he’s never coming back our way and he stays up in that league.”

Ex-Chiefs forward Woods signs AHL contract

Ex-Chiefs forward Riley Woods signed a one-year contract with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, the Marlies announced.

The Marlies are the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Maple Leafs.

Woods, one of the Chiefs’ three 20-year-old players last season, scored 29 goals and had 46 assists for a team-high 75 points in 2018-19. In 230 career WHL games with the Chiefs and the Regina Pats, Woods recorded 180 points.

The Maple Leafs’ organization is already familiar with the Chiefs. Defenseman Filip Kral was Toronto’s fifth-round selection in the 2018 draft, and forward Eli Zummack participated in the organization’s development camp last summer.

Zummack, undrafted last year, remains eligible for the 2019 draft later this month.