WHEELING, W.Va. – The Wheeling Nailers, ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, announced that Jeff Christian has been named the team’s new head coach. He becomes the 16th head coach in team history.
"We are pleased to have Jeff as our head coach, following our exciting run to the Kelly Cup Final," said Nailers Governor Don Rigby. " Jeff proved that he is ready to become our next head coach to lead us to success on the ice. Although he has been here for a short time, he has already done excellent work with our local media, and has shown an eagerness to interact with our fans and our community."
Christian, 45, first came to the Nailers as an assistant coach in late January. 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 ten 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.
"Jeff Christian has shown a great amount of enthusiasm and passion toward player development, which is something that we value highly in the organization," said Pittsburgh Penguins Associate General Manager Jason Botterill. "Jeff had great success in the playoffs this past spring, which will serve as a beneficial exerience as he leads the Nailers forward into their 25th season."
After the Nailers defeated the Florida Everblades in six games during the opening round of the postseason, Jeff’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 ten playoff coaching wins rank tied for second in team history with Clark Donatelli, trailing the all-time leader Doug Sauter, who has 14.
"I am very excited about the opportunity to be the Nailers new head coach," Christian said. "We had a great run this past season, and I am looking forward to getting started in training camp, and continuing to build from our playoff success. I am thankful for all of the tremendous support we received from our fans, management, and staff throughout the run. This team has a great tradition of 25 years of hockey with a rich history of coaches, and I hope to continue that trend."
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, Jeff 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).