International Ice Hockey Federation

Tamer’s remarkable journey

Tamer’s remarkable journey

Ex-NHL D-man goes from tough guy to teacher

Published 31.03.2016 12:53 GMT-7 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Tamer’s remarkable journey
Chris Tamer (right) speaks with U.S. head coach Ken Klee before a game against Finland. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Those who followed Chris Tamer’s NHL career from afar might be surprised that he’s now an assistant coach with the U.S. women’s national team.

Tamer, 45, fought many of the NHL’s best-known tough guys, from Bob Probert to Gino Odjick, during an 11-year career with 644 games played and 1,183 PIM. If his 20-something self somehow found out that in 2016 he would be coaching at the IIHF Women’s World Championship, where there is neither fighting nor bodychecking, what would that guy say?

“I don’t think I’d be surprised if somebody told me that back then,” Tamer said with a smile during an off-day interview. “It would definitely be eye-opening, but it wouldn’t be a surprise. I always liked coaching and teaching. I love the sport of hockey and I love learning about it.”

The native of Dearborn, Michigan was a hard-nosed, stay-at-home defenceman for the Pittsburgh Penguins (1994-99), who drafted him 68th overall in 1990. He later took his work ethic and professionalism to the New York Rangers (1998-99) and Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2004).

He explained how he got involved with the women’s national team: “I was invited last August and went to a camp and just helped out coaching. It was a bit of an evaluation training camp. I was learning how things work. I learned that the players were very good and competitive. There’s a big pool of high-level players. I just had an absolute blast with the players and the coaching staff and the whole organization. I was fortunate enough to be invited back.”

Tamer’s job is to coach the defence, and he’s enjoying working with the likes of Monique Lamoureux, Lee Stecklein, and Kacey Bellamy. He also goes way back with head coach and fellow ex-NHLer Ken Klee. They used to skate together in Ann Arbor in the summertime, and attended some U.S. national team camps together. (Tamer represented his country at two IIHF World Championships, coming sixth in Norway in 1999 and seventh in Sweden in 2002.)

Although Tamer is the owner and head trainer at Crossfit Brighton back home, here he leaves recommendations on fitness to strength and conditioning coach Sarah Cahill and her colleagues.

For this University of Michigan product, who already had experience coaching youth hockey, the transition from men’s hockey to women’s hockey has been smooth. Are there any differences in terms of dealing with female players?

“They have a tendency to be more attentive to detail. They’ll do what you tell them to do. They’ll give it a shot no matter what it is, and they’ll do it to a fault. They listen very, very well. Other than that, they’re hockey players. They want to play. They want to compete. They want to win.”

Naturally, the U.S. players have had questions about Tamer’s NHL days.

“Initially, they asked me about fighting, if I enjoyed it,” he recalled. “I said it was done out of necessity at times. I didn’t necessarily mind it when I was younger. Those were short conversations. Now they ask about small details of the game.  Stick positioning, angling, communication, seeing the play. When you’re an Olympic or professional athlete, the small details are the differences.”

Speaking of being in the right place at the right time, Tamer got to play with some of the greatest players in hockey history. He has fond memories of suiting up alongside Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh.

“One pass in particular stands out,” Tamer said. “I made a bad pass and it was in Mario’s skates. He kicked it up and then made a phenomenal backhand pass. It was something really small, but afterwards I was thinking: ‘I can’t believe he made that play.’ Not too many players in the world can make that play, or make it as quick and smooth as he did. The other thing about Mario is when the games got bigger in the playoffs, he got bigger. It was phenomenal to see.”

Jaromir Jagr also made a vivid impression on Tamer in his mullet-wearing, Art Ross Trophy-winning glory years.

“Jags was a young kid that just loved the game. He loved having fun. He was always horsing around, joking around, always talking. He was the last guy off the ice. It kind of doesn’t surprise me now that he’s still playing at his age because of his work ethic. I think he’s working smart and he’s still working hard.”

Tamer was privileged to be a member of the New York Rangers on April 18, 1999 when Wayne Gretzky played his last game before retirement. The emotional build-up to that night at Madison Square Garden was something special.

“We heard about it and read about it. It was all over the news. Cameras were coming into the locker room and following him. It was pretty emotional for him. It was amazing to see Canada’s reaction. We were in Ottawa when it came out that he was retiring. He got a standing ovation. It just showed how big he was. It was surprising for the players on the team, especially the younger players, that he was just a normal guy. He was the most popular guy in Canada.”

Right here and now in Kamloops, Tamer’s focus is on helping the U.S. team capture its third consecutive Women’s Worlds gold medal. What will be the key to success?

“Proper preparation and attention to detail. If our players play together as a team, which they have been doing, we’ll have a good chance.”

The 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship will take place at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan – right in Tamer’s backyard. If all goes well, perhaps he’ll return with the coaching staff there and add another chapter to his already intriguing hockey history.

 

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