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Spokane Chiefs see seamless transition to new coach Manny Viveiros

UPDATED: Wed., July 10, 2019, 8:58 p.m.

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

As Bobby Brett tells it, when Scott Carter hired Dan Lambert two years ago to coach the Spokane Chiefs hockey team, the general manager told the Chiefs’ managing partner that they were probably getting a two-year coach.

Carter was right.

On Wednesday outside the main gates of the Arena, Carter introduced Manny Viveiros to replace Lambert – with Lambert in attendance – in a transition that, to current Chiefs players, looked and felt seamless.

“He’s similar to Dan (Lambert) in style,” said defenseman Luke Gallagher. “That worked for us last year and the year before, so I think that’ll be good.”

Viveiros brings to Spokane a résumé similar to his predecessor’s: Both won championships in the Western Hockey League as players and went on to successful careers in Europe before moving into coaching. Both won WHL titles as coaches: Lambert with Kelowna in 2015, Viveiros with Swift Current in 2018.

But unlike Lambert, who took over a Chiefs team that had missed the playoffs in 2016-17, Viveiros takes over a team that reached the Western Conference finals a year ago.

In Viveiros’ assessment, there is no need to rebuild: The foundation is already there.

“Spokane’s done a great job supplying skilled and fast players. The teams I had in Swift Current were like that,” Viveiros said. “(That) will be an easy transition, and these kids will understand how we’re gonna play because of what Dan (Lambert) had installed in two years here. We’re gonna play with a lot of skill and a lot of speed, and we’ll be tenacious. … We’re not gonna sit back at all. We’re gonna attack.”

When Bear Hughes first heard of the hire on Monday, in a text message from Carter, the Chiefs forward and Post Falls native typed his new coach’s name into a Google search.

Immediately, he was impressed.

“He’s a winner,” Hughes said. “He knows how to coach at this level. That’s the most important thing to me right now.”

Viveiros spent last season as an assistant with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers but was fired at the end of May after the Oilers hired a new coach and general manager.

The move to Edmonton had been a homecoming for Viveiros: He grew up in St. Albert, a suburb, and kept an offseason home there.

But even before Lambert officially left to take an assistant coaching position with the Nashville Predators, Carter had reached out to Viveiros about a possible return to the WHL, a league in which he had been named Coach of the Year, in 2017-18, and Eastern Conference Player of the Year, after the 1985-86 season.

As Viveiros waited to see whether he would be offered a position with another NHL team, Carter interviewed other candidates but said he didn’t waver from his primary target.

“Manny was the guy we wanted all along,” Carter said.

Among those in attendance at the announcement Wednesday were the three Spokane-area natives currently playing in the NHL: Derek Ryan (Calgary Flames), Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Kailer Yamamoto, who raved about his time with Viveiros last year in Edmonton.

Yamamoto frequently studied game film with Viveiros, and the 20-year-old winger was struck by the coach’s eagerness to teach.

“He wanted to show you clips and plays that you didn’t understand,” Yamamoto said. “He’ll sit right there with you and clarify, to help you know you’re on the right page. … It shows a lot about him and what Spokane got as a coach.”

Carter praised the 53-year-old Viveiros as “passionate for the city,” and “compassionate for players.”

Viveiros said he and Laurie, his wife, came and toured Spokane last week before the job offer was finalized. Now he will focus on building a coaching staff and getting to know players from afar in Edmonton, before moving to Spokane in early August in advance of the team’s training camp.

“You certainly don’t ever want to leave, not only myself but other guys in that coaching group who wanted to stay longer, but that’s the nature of the business,” Viveiros said of leaving the Oilers organization. “You move on from that. We’re not bitter.

“This is a new opportunity,” he said. “It was a very easy decision for us.”

Viveiros starred as a defenseman with Prince Albert from 1982 to 1986, when he amassed 321 points – 60 goals and 261 assists – in 251 regular-season games. His 93 assists and 109 points in the 1983-84 season still stand as franchise records among defenseman for a single season.

He was selected by the Oilers in the 6th round of the 1984 NHL draft but never suited up for Edmonton. His NHL stint was a brief one: 29 games for the Minnesota North Stars from 1986 to 1988.

After a couple seasons in the American Hockey League and the International Hockey League, Viveiros embarked on a 17-year playing career in Europe. Most of his playing experience came in Austria, where he subsequently coached for nine seasons. He holds dual Canadian and Austrian citizenship.

“Wonderful,” he said of Austria. “It really was a great place to raise our kids. It’s a great country for family to grow up in.”

In 2016, he came back to North America as Swift Current’s head coach and director of player personnel. His second season there culminated in a WHL championship, in 2018.

For Chiefs forward Eli Zummack, Viveiros’ record as both a player and a coach stand out. Viveiros, like Lambert, won a WHL title as a player. Viveiros’ came in 1985 with Prince Albert, Lambert’s in 1989 with Swift Current.

“”It shows they know how to not only win as a coach, but also as a player,” Zummack said. “He’s been there, Dan (Lambert has) been there. Dan did a great job with us for two years.

“That’s super important when the coach has actually been there and knows what it takes. They have a better feel for it coaching-wise because they’ve been there before.”

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