ANAHEIM — Denny Lambert was getting ready to play his 278th game as a San Diego Gull when Coach Walt Kyle asked to see him Tuesday morning.
The Mighty Ducks were calling him up to the NHL.
"I didn't actually believe it," Lambert said. "Walt jokes a lot. I thought he was pulling my leg. He called me in and I thought we were going to watch video. He said, 'They're calling you up,' and I said, 'OK, right, ' and he said, 'No, I'm serious.' I said, 'Holy jeez. Wow.' I've been waiting a long time."
Lambert had the longest career in Gull history, and he admits, "I thought it would last forever."
It took him nearly 300 minor league games to get to the NHL--but only nine minutes in the NHL to score his first goal. During the Ducks' 4-3 overtime victory over Edmonton on Wednesday, he scored on his first NHL shot, which is a little like hitting a home run in your first major league game.
"My parents couldn't believe it," Lambert said. "\o7 I\f7 couldn't believe it. When I scored I said, 'Holy. . . . ' "
Lambert, 25, has spent years trying to prove he could do more on a pair of skates than fight.
Then he picked up the 1994-95 NHL Official Guide and Record Book and looked at his career record. His first year in junior jumped off the page. Bit of a typographical error there.
\o7 Denny Lambert, Sault Ste. Marie, 1988-89. PIM: 2032.\f7
Two-thousand and thirty-two penalty minutes?
"I said, 'Whoa, that's a lot of time,' " said Lambert, who logs 200-plus a season. "\o7 That \f7 would be a record nobody would touch."'
If true, Lambert would have spent 33 minutes of every game he played that season in the penalty box. George Foreman might not be able to average 33 penalty minutes a game. What is that, six fighting majors and a roughing minor?
One of Lambert's problems has been that all anybody saw in him was a fighter. But last summer, the Ducks encouraged him to come to Anaheim and work on his conditioning and agility. This season, instead of playing on the third or fourth line, he played with Hubie McDonough and Mark Beaufait, the Gulls' best scorers. Lambert put up good numbers--25 goals, 35 assists and his usual rock-solid 222 penalty minutes.
"This year I was able to show I had ability to do more than just go around and fight," Lambert said. "You have to be a player now, not just a fighter."
The Ducks have seen what he has been doing all season, and assistant general manager Pierre Gauthier said the team was waiting for the right time to call him up. When they traded Grimson--and with Todd Ewen sidelined because of a cut on his left hand--they summoned him.
"He's ready to play," Gauthier said. "He's got to keep playing the way he was there, go up and down and be a banger. He takes responsibility as a physical player, but he's got hands and hockey sense too."
Whether he'll be a consistent scorer in the NHL remains to be seen. Penalty minutes you can count on.
"I've got to remember I'm here to bump and grind and go to the net," Lambert said.