The Prince George Cougars have a new head coach.
If he looks a lot like the old head coach that’s because, well, he is.
General manager Mark Lamb, who added the coaching job to his job description on an interim basis in February when the team fired Richard Matvichuk, is dropping the ‘interim’ from his job title. The Cougars announced this morning that Lamb will take on the dual role of general manager and coach.
“It didn’t come easy,” Lamb said, regarding his decision to take over the head coaching position. “Do I like to coach? Absolutely. I’m probably weighted towards (being) a coach. I’ve done it for 18 years and managing has been a part of it.”
Not coming easy was probably an understatement. It was probably tough enough to make the decision to take over the head coaching job, but he was also being lured away by an old friend. While Lamb was deliberating about what to do with the Cougars’ head coach position, Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett, who Lamb has known almost his entire hockey career as a coach and player, offered him the associate coach’s job with the NHL club.
“I thought about it, for sure,” Lamb said. “I don’t under-estimate the NHL, it’s the best league in the world. That’s the goal that everyone wants to get to, including myself.”
And, even though Lamb’s wife is from Edmonton and he knows the city, they really like Prince George and Lamb has some unfinished business here. He’s in the second year of a four-year contract with the Cougars and he came here for a reason … to build a winning team and hopefully win a championship.
“I came here to do a job and it’s not done,” he said. “… And (Lamb and his wife) really like here.”
Being general manager and coach is a tough role because both require a full time commitment. To make it work, Lamb will need the help of a co-coach who is on the same page as him and who can take over behind the bench when his general manager’s duties draw him away. Steve O’Rourke, who was the Cougars’ assistant coach, has left the team and one of Lamb’s first jobs will be to find that co-coach who fits.
“It’s going to be like two coaches,” he said. “He’s going to have a lot of responsibility … I want to make that one of the tightest coaching staffs in the league, which will give us a greater opportunity to have success.”
Lamb came back to stability several times, saying that was one of the driving factors behind making the coaching change in February.
“What I really try to do is create stability, throughout the entire organization,” he said. “We made a lot of good trades the year before, a lot of good draft picks … we have all kinds of assets for the draft next year … So where’s the stability? How can we keep everything going forward in a positive way.”
That was part of the reason to make the coaching change in February.
“You really get into the guts of the organization,” he said. “We have a lot of good people working in the office. What I wasn’t comfortable with was downstairs. I needed to know the players better and the best way to do that was to get in the battle with them, get in the games with them.”
He said he wasn’t expecting success after he took over the head coaching role, but the team did start to show some improvement, even though they were already out of the playoffs.
The couple of months behind the bench gave him a good idea of the kind of person he wanted for a head coach and there was a lot of interest. He said he probably looked at about 40 resumes and talked to 10 prospective coaches.
Lamb has an extensive hockey resume, which includes a Stanley Cup, and spans over three decades as a player and coach. After a 15-year playing career at the professional level, Lamb began his coaching career as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers in 2001-2002. He then moved onto the Dallas Stars, and spent six seasons (2002-2009) behind the bench as an Assistant Coach. He was named the general manager and head coach of the Swift Current Broncos in 2009, a position he held until 2016. Lamb then moved back into the professional ranks in 2016-2017, as a head coach of the Tucson Roadrunners, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes.
As a player, Lamb had a lengthy and successful playing career at both the junior and professional levels. He played five seasons in the Western Hockey League in Billings, Nanaimo, and Medicine Hat. He was drafted by the Calgary Flames, 72nd overall, in the 1982 NHL Draft, and made his NHL debut with the Flames in the 1985-1986 season. He went on to play 13 seasons and over 400 career regular season games in the NHL between Calgary, Detroit, Edmonton, Ottawa, Philadelphia, and Montreal. Lamb won the 1990 Stanley Cup with the Oilers, after picking up 17 points in 22 playoff games. He also won the Turner Cup, in the International Hockey League, with the Houston Aeros in 1999.