The 2016-17 season marks Jeff Christian’s first season as Wheeling’s head coach. Christian, 45, first came to the Nailers as an assistant coach in late January last season. The club was struggling at the time, sitting three games under .500 and nine points back of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Upon his arrival, Wheeling promptly earned nine of 10 points with a 4-0-1 mark in its next five games, beginning a rally which resulted in a fifth-place finish in the conference, in addition to the squad’s third consecutive appearance in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
After the Nailers defeated the Florida Everblades in six games during the opening round of the postseason, Christian’s role changed, as he took over as interim head coach. Under his leadership, Wheeling won back-to-back seven-game series over the Reading Royals and South Carolina Stingrays, capturing the Eastern Conference championship, before falling two wins short of a Kelly Cup against the Allen Americans. His 10 playoff coaching wins rank tied for second in team history with Clark Donatelli, trailing the all-time leader Doug Sauter, who has 14.
Prior to joining the coaching ranks, Christian played professional hockey in North America and Europe for 21 seasons. He was originally selected with the 23rd overall pick in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils, and made his pro debut with New Jersey’s AHL affiliate in Utica, New York. During the 1991-92 campaign, the Burlington, Ontario native made his NHL debut with the Devils. Five years later, he netted his first NHL goal as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Christian appeared in 1,072 games in North America, totaling 456 goals, 645 assists, 1,101 points, and 2,489 penalty minutes. His two most productive seasons were in 2005-06 and 2006-07 with the CHL’s Youngstown Steelhounds, when he set career highs in goals (55 in 2005-06) and points (116 in 2006-07).
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