Vernon Vipers' rookie Adam Tambellini (front) tries to stickhandle past defenceman Marc Hetnik during a drill Wednesday afternoon at Wesbild Centre.

Vernon Vipers' rookie Adam Tambellini (front) tries to stickhandle past defenceman Marc Hetnik during a drill Wednesday afternoon at Wesbild Centre.

NHL culture boosts Vernon Viper rookie Adam Tambellini

Vernon Viper rookie centreman Adam Tambellini signs with the NCAA Division 1 North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

Adam Tambellini was pretty much a rink rat as a kid.

It’s kind of hard to blame him when those so-called rinks are GM Place (now Rogers Arena) and Rexall Place, and the players he hung around with were NHLers.

One of the best things about the gig was the free hockey sticks. Another bonus was sound hockey advice from true professionals.

Whether it came from his dad, Steve, GM of the Edmonton Oilers, brother, Jeff, who played last season with the Vancouver Canucks, or the myriad of NHLers, Tambellini must have been listening. The lanky 17-year-old is well on his way to carving out a pro career of his own.

Tambellini, a rookie centreman with the Vernon Vipers, took a step towards that goal by committing to the NCAA Division 1 North Dakota Fighting Sioux earlier this week. He and Vernon d-man Geoff Crisfield, who committed to the Sioux earlier in the season, will play another year in the B.C. Hockey League before heading to North Dakota in 2013-14.

“Hockey’s always been the favourite sport since I was a young guy,” said the soft-spoken Tambellini. “Seeing my brother go through the ranks, through junior (Chilliwack Chiefs) and through college (Michigan Wolverines), it was good to see what he did to make his way to the NHL.”

Jeff, a first-round selection of the Los Angeles Kings in 2003, is playing in Europe this year with the ZSC Lions of Zurich in the Swiss A League. He leads the team with 20-19-39 in 43 games, good enough for sixth overall in league scoring.

“He’s doing very well. I’m happy for him,” said Tambellini, who went on a flydown to UND’s Grand Forks campus in mid-January.

“Saw a game against the (Minnesota) Gophers and it was a pretty good environment there. Seeing the facilities and coaching staff, it was kind of a no-brainer so I called in the other day to commit.

“They have a lot of guys that move onto the NHL or AHL, so that definitely attracted me to the program.”

Tambellini would always tag along with Steve (then the assistant GM in Vancouver) to watch the Canucks, and later the Oilers, do their morning skates and then hang around the locker room.

“When I was in Vancouver, Trevor Linden was an idol of mine that I looked up to a lot, and I got to spend lots of time around him,” said Tambellini.

“And in Edmonton, it was Andrew Cogliano (now with Anaheim Ducks) who I would talk to all the time and talk about hockey and stuff.

“They’re (pros) always thinking about the right things, always doing the right things. Just being consistent, that’s a big thing I’m trying to work on this year and just doing everything I can every night.”

An endless run of injuries have caused Vernon head coach Jason Williamson to juggle his lines this season, and Tambellini has capitalized by earning minutes with first-liners Mike Zalewski and Darren Nowick.

“It’s not that often you see guys his age doing what he does,” said Zalewski. “The poise he plays with is pretty awesome for the age he is right now.

“He plays with lots of confidence and I’m not surprised to see him already commit to a school this early because he’s a heckuva player for his age.”

And while Tambellini does a lot of things right, what the 6-foot-2, 170-pounder does best is shoot. If he gets the puck on his stick anywhere near the slot, chances are a faceoff at centre ice is soon to follow. He is third in team scoring with 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points in 41 games.

“Once he grows into his body, look out, because that release point is great, his shot is great,” said Williamson. “He puts himself in areas where, when he gets the puck, it’s dangerous. That’s one of the things you can’t teach as a coach.

“He’s been around the game his whole life so he knows what it takes. Consistency is huge, you’ve got to bring it each and every night. Sometimes it’s a learning curve, and it has been with him, but he’s definitely taken off in the second half here.”

The Vipers, fifth in the Interior Conference at 21-20-1-2, open a four-game home stand tonight at Wesbild Centre against the Merritt Centennials (26-14-2-5), followed by a Saturday date with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (15-24-2-1). The last-place Trail Smoke Eaters (9-29-1-4) are in town Tuesday night.

SNAKE BITES: Vernon minor hockey products Trevor Pickett and Cody Hendrickson were called up to the KIJHL Revelstoke Grizzlies, who iced the Chase Heat 7-2 Wednesday night. Riley Spraggs and Cole Sanford, also Vernon natives, each fired a goal and an assist for the Grizz, who got an assist from Michael Roberts and 29 saves from Conrad McMillan…The Penticton Vees have a chance to break the league record of 29 consecutive wins set by the 1989-90 New Westminster Royals. If they stop the Chilliwack Chiefs tonight at the South Okanagan Events Centre, they can rewrite history Tuesday in Chilliwack. Chiefs’ head coach Harvey Smyl was an assistant coach with the Royals the year they established the record.