ECHL.com Note – Pat Bingham was head coach of Wheeling from 2003-05 after serving as an assistant coach for the Nailers in 2001-02. He was awarded the John Brophy Award as ECHL Coach of the Year after Wheeling had its best season in history at 51-17-4. David Baseggio began his professional coaching career with Charlotte working as an assistant coach in 2000-01.
By Mike Fornabaio
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – One came here through Florida; the other through Europe. One played hockey at the highest level; the other got away from the game for a while.
Both Pat Bingham and Lane Lambert worked their way as coaches to the AHL last summer, and they’ve both been assets to head coach Dave Baseggio and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Baseggio had been Bridgeport’s only assistant coach for four years. After he got promoted last summer, the New York Islanders allowed him to bring in two assistant coaches to replace himself.
He picked the head coach of the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, Bingham, who had worked his way up through the low minors. He also picked the head coach of the junior WHL’s Prince George Cougars, Lambert, an old teammate who was just a few years removed from a long playing career.
“They’ve both been head coaches, which is huge,” Baseggio said. “They’re both good students of the game. It’s nice that I don’t have to worry about the penalty kill, the pre-scout. The stuff they do, they do a great job. I respect their opinions.”
The respect is mutual, and they’re a group that appears to be on the same page. Lambert, 41, runs the penalty kill and the defense. Bingham, 37, handles the “pre-scout,” analyzing opposing teams’ personnel and systems.
“Instead of doing some things just OK, we can do things well,” Baseggio said. They’re all teachers during practices, another voice to try to get the staff’s message across, working and talking with players afterward. “I want to work with good people, and they’re both great guys,” Baseggio said. “We all want to win. We want to develop these players, and we want to win. We have a common goal.”
That’s something that drew Bingham back to coaching in the late 1990s after a two-year sabbatical. Bingham had three free-agent tryouts with NHL teams, with Philadelphia, Hartford and San Jose. The third, he said, was a “devastating blow” to him after four seasons AHL, ECHL and old Colonial Hockey League, the precursor to the UHL.
“I wasn’t really mature enough to handle the bumps in the road,” Bingham said. “My heart was always in the right place as a young guy, but my head wasn’t always.”
He went to Florida to play for a buddy in the Sunshine Hockey League, was a player-assistant coach, “not doing much coaching,” he said. For two years after that, Bingham was a personal trainer and a massage therapist. He also met his wife, Tanya, while he was there. But he missed the game. He got back in as a coach in the Central Hockey League, worked his way up, winning the 2004 ECHL Coach of the Year award.
“I missed the camaraderie, and I missed mentoring,” Bingham said. “It’s cathartic to help a young guy.”
That’s what Lambert was doing for the past four years. He began his coaching career in 2001 as an assistant with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, the league in which both he and Bingham played as teen-agers. After two years, he became head coach of Prince George. “I had a great experience in junior,” Lambert said. “It’s such a developmental job, much similar to this one. It certainly helped me in terms of individually working with the guys.”
When he moved into coaching, Lambert had just finished a professional career that began in 1983 with the Detroit Red Wings. He played almost 300 NHL games (and 11 with the old New Haven Nighthawks), spent several years in Europe, and finished his career with five seasons in the old IHL, including parts of two seasons in Cleveland with Baseggio. Coaching crept into Lambert’s mind late in his career. “It wasn’t so long ago I was playing at this level. I can draw on it a little bit. But playing and coaching are two different things,” Lambert said. “More than anything, I draw on the last four years coaching before I got here.”
Both enjoy seeing players achieve, both at this level and at the next. Bingham remembered sitting in the coaches’ office back in October, when Baseggio told Kevin Colley the Sound Tigers’ captain would be going to the NHL for the first time.
“The look on his face, that innocence, the childhood smile you just can’t fake,” Bingham said.
Lambert added, “You see a guy get called up and do well in New York, that’s a real reward. You feel a little bit a part of it.”