HOCKEY Christian believes in Hounds
The former Pittsburgh Penguin was hired as a player-coach for the CHL team.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Move over Crusher! The Youngstown SteelHounds have a new face, one that has spent a little time in the National Hockey League.
Tuesday, the SteelHounds announced the hiring of 34-year-old forward Jeff Christian as a player-assistant coach.
From 1994-97, Christian, a left wing, played 15 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, spending most of those seasons with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International Hockey League.
Jean LaForest, coach of the expansion Central Hockey League team that will play at the Youngstown Convocation Center, says Christian's responsibilities in the off-season includes player recruitment.
LaForest said he was impressed by Christian's "character and his desire to work for this franchise now. He's a very, very aggressive recruiter."
A second-round draft pick by the New Jersey Devils in 1988, Christian's American Hockey League career began in 1990 with the Utica Devils.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound forward played 268 games for Cleveland. During the 1996-97 season, he led the Lumberjacks with 40 goals, 80 points and 262 penalty minutes.
His most productive season was in 1998-99 with the IHL Houston Aeros. His 46 goals and 86 points placed him seventh in the league as the Aeros won the Turner Cup.
"It means something that he has [such a] background," SteelHounds general manager George Manias said. "When a player hears it's Jeff Christian on the line, they are more apt to listen to us."
LaForest said, "A player of his stature can definitely play a part in the development of our younger players. And we're looking for him to be a premier player in the Central Hockey League."
The past five years, Christian played in Europe -- four seasons in Germany and last year in England.
"On the ice, I still feel that I will be one of the top players at this level," Christian said. "That's my goal. I wouldn't keep playing if I didn't think that I could perform at the level I have been performing."
Visible in community
The SteelHounds say Christian will be visible in the community immediately as they try to drum up support for the team.
"He is going to be the player we put out this summer, to every golf outing we can get him to and every community event," Manias said. "He's going to be the face of the team."
Christian doesn't mind.
"I used to do promotions for the Lumberjacks. I was 'the guy' and it will be the same with [the SteelHounds]," Christian said. "As far as I am concerned, you can't do enough of that kind of stuff."
Christian said Mike Mudd, vice president of hockey operations for the Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League, told him about the SteelHounds opportunity at a recent gathering of former Lumberjacks
"I knew he was interested in coming back to North America to get his foot in the door coaching-wise," Mudd said in a telephone interview. "A week later, he has a deal done. It's a natural fit."
Christian said his past five years "have been a bit of a roller coaster. My wife [Dorie] is an attorney in Ohio.
"Our daughter [Ryan] is 31/2 so it's time for her to get some roots," said Christian, who maintains a summer home in Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie. "Going back and forth to Europe every year wasn't going to do it.
"We're here in Youngstown long-term. We're hoping this is the final stop on the 16-year world tour," Christian said. "As a family, we have to make some sacrifices. We're thrilled to be in Ohio -- there are so many positives.
"The good thing is that Grandma is in Columbus and my parents are just on the other side of [Lake Erie] in Hamilton if she needs help," Christian said.
Road trips to the Southwest are the flip side.
"But we've got to make a sacrifice and Dad is going to be gone for a couple of weeks," Christian said. "I hope to play two or three more years, hopefully here in Youngstown.
"Talking to a lot of my friends who are now in coaching, they all say the same hockey clich & eacute; -- play as long as you can. And I still love to play," Christian said. "I think I love it more now than I did in the early points of my career. You appreciate it more now, you're thankful for every day at the rink because you know what's waiting [afterward].
"I'm a realtor part-time," Christian said. "Compare that to being a hockey player -- there's no comparison."