By Tom Haraldsen
The Valley Journals
Jason Christie remembers his youth living on the family farm in Gibbons, Alberta. His father still works in the oil fields today, just as he did when Christie was growing up. “It was often cold, bitterly cold, and I thought to myself–I’d rather be on an ice hockey rink.” He has been since he was old enough to stand up on a pair of skates.
Christie, who is about to begin his second season as head coach and director of hockey operations for the Utah Grizzlies, lives in Holladay these days, along with his wife Kelley and their two sons.
And he lives there year–round. Bucking the trend of every other head coach of a professional team in Utah, Christie is happy to call Utah home 365 days a year. “We love it here, the mountains, the fresh air, and all the wonderful people,” he said from his office at the E-Center in West Valley, where the Grizzlies will begin their 2006-07 season at the end of October.
“I think it’s important to stay in the area all year, so you can do some good things in the community. And Kelley and I know this is a great place to raise our kids.” Christie was named to his position on June 14, 2005. In their inaugural ECHL season in 2005-06, the Grizzlies were 36-30-6 and lost in the Kelly Cup Playoffs to Kelly Cup champion Alaska.
Christie, who came to Utah after five seasons as head coach and director of hockey operations for Peoria of the ECHL, is 253-131- 48 in six seasons behind the bench and has led his teams to the Kelly Cup Playoffs in all but one season. He has the most wins in the 23-year history of Peoria hockey and ranks fifth among ECHL coaches in career wins.
“Hockey’s been in my blood all of my life,” he recalled. “I had to work hard as a player every night out there on the ice, and I’m trying to develop that same work ethic in my players. This is such a great sport, and I can’t imagine not having it in my life in some way.”
He never made it to the National Hockey League as a player, but he played for 10 seasons professionally, scoring 88 goals and tallying 174 helpers. As a player with the Peoria Rivermen in 2000, his team won the Kelly Cup, and he was named co-MVP of the Kelly Cup finals.
He played five seasons in the American Hockey League and the International Hockey League, scoring 172 points (58g-114a) in 305 games. Before turning pro, he scored 290 points (115g-175a) in 279 games with Saskatoon in the Western Hockey League.
With the new season close at hand (the team began training camp on Oct. 6), Christie is excited about the opportunities for this year’s Grizzlies, both on and off the ice. “You have to give something back to the community you live in,” he said. “We look for players who want to be here, want to be part of the Grizzlies and the Salt Lake City area. I think we began that process pretty well last season and we’ll continue to do it this year.”
With eight players back from last year’s team, and a host of new talent, he’s very optimistic that the Grizzlies will be in the playoff hunt again. “It’s great living in Holladay, being part of this state, and I’m excited to be here. I hope we are for a long time to come.”