When Dan Lambert arrived in Buffalo last year, he focused on the way Dan Bylsma handled his veterans. Lambert’s only coaching experience was at the junior level, so he needed to learn how to work in a league that mixed 20-year-old single guys with 37-year-old family men.
Watching Bylsma’s methods will help Lambert in his new role as coach of the Rochester Americans.
“The reason we chose not to send me here right away was because of my lack of experience working with men,” Lambert told reporters Tuesday in Rochester. “I certainly paid special attention to Dan and the way he treated players, players like Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges, and then Jack Eichel. It was very different, yet those are same similarities we’re going to have here.
“Just to watch and learn, I think that was probably the biggest lesson for me.”
In his role as a Sabres assistant, Lambert also learned how organization wants to play. He plans to teach that speedy, quick-thinking mindset to the Amerks so the prospects are ready for a call from Buffalo.
“As a coach it’s your job to mold players,” the 46-year-old said. “When they get here, they’re 20 years old. It’s not like they’re completely set in their ways. They have to learn the professional game
“If you start implementing the Buffalo Sabres style, then I think you should be able to turn guys or help guys become those players.”
The opportunity to eventually coach the minor-leaguers was the only reason Lambert took a job in Buffalo. He went 53-13-6 with Kelowna in 2014-15, and he was fond of life in the Western Hockey League. Bylsma called last summer to see if Lambert was interested in becoming his assistant, and the initial thought was no.
“We talked about different scenarios,” Lambert said. “One of the scenarios was strictly a third assistant in Buffalo, which I wasn’t overly excited about. I felt like I was in a great spot in Kelowna. We had a great organization, and we’d just had success, and I felt like the team was good enough to keep on having success.
“That wasn’t really enticing for me until we started talking about, ‘What if we brought this scenario: You came with us for a year and possibly went to Roch.’ That’s when I was like, ‘Yeah, I would love that.’”
The scenario became official Monday when Lambert replaced Randy Cunneyworth to become the Amerks’ 31st coach. Cunneyworth rejoined the Sabres’ player development department.
“Cunney is one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet,” Lambert said. “We sat down a few times and we talked a few times in the winter about different situations, things that went on last year here, so he has been there for insight and I know he will continue to be there.”
Lambert’s first priority will be to hire a staff. He’s talked with the holdover assistants, including longtime Rochester coach and player Chris Taylor, and will interview others.
“I do want to move quickly,” Lambert said. “It’s important that we get a staff in place and get our ideas together.”
Despite knowing he would take over the Amerks, Lambert didn’t get many opportunities to see the team during its disappointing 34-38-4 campaign.
“I was hoping to watch them a lot more than I did,” Lambert said. “Because of the schedule up in Buffalo, it’s not like they would say, ‘Oh, take the day off and go watch Rochester.’ It wasn’t like that, so I probably watched half a dozen games and a few on TV as well.
“The American Hockey League has changed from where it was when we played in it. It’s a lot more of a developmental league. … In saying that, is my goal to have success as a coach here, and success means typically winning and developing players? Absolutely.”