Last year's coach, J.F. Laforest, wasn't very open to advice, Christian said.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Jeff Christian is hoping that Kevin Kaminski, the Youngstown SteelHounds' new coach, will be more of a players' coach than was J.F. Laforest.
Laforest guided the team in its first season to a 25-34-5 record before resigning in August.
"I think that by the fact that Kaminski is a former [National Hockey League] player that he will go to the players more and ask them what their opinions are," said Christian, who is returning as a player-assistant coach for the SteelHounds.
"Hopefully [Kaminski] will listen more," said Christian, who led the Central Hockey League in goals scored (55) in 2005-06. "[Laforest] didn't do that last year at all.
"He felt that since he was in that league that he knew what was best, but with our record obviously he didn't know as much," Christian said. "But we are all past that now."
Christian, who ranked No. 2 in CHL scoring last year with 107 points as a left wing, said he thinks that Kaminski will realize the value of asking input from players.
"It's a kind of respect thing. [Whereas Laforest] had never played at a high pro level.," Christian said. "So there will be a big difference [this season] and the players will have more input."
But Christian, who had 52 assists last season, said a head coach should encourage opinion and advice from players, but that ultimately he has the responsibility to make the final decisions about overall team strategy.
"It obviously depends on the situation. I feel that good coaches will take input from players and then try to make the best decisions," said Christian, who is hoping that Kaminski will tap into Christian's and standout holdover Chris Richards' experiences as professional hockey veterans returning to the team.
"I believe that Kevin will build a better relationship between coaches and players."
Definition for veteran
Christian said that there is a precise definition for a veteran in professional hockey, apart from the generic meaning of experience.
"We are the only veterans back," he said of himself and Richards, a center last season and a former Ohio State player who was the SteelHounds' second-leading scorer last year with 92 points on 22 goals and 70 assists.
"A veteran is considered a player who has played 280 professional games. Each team is allowed four veterans. We may be fine with just two veterans because we have a lot of depth right now. But if it looks like someone pops up on the radar screen, we will check him out."
Christian is also glad that team owner Herb Washington wanted more players in camp (30) than last year (18), so that they could determine the best players themselves rather than just creating the roster without competition that they could observe and evaluate.
And he's hoping that having better players will spell some relief for him and Richards.
"Last year, Richards and I played 35 minutes a game during penalty kills and all situations, but with the recruiting that was done [this year], my role won't be [as great] and I won't have to be out there as long because we have other players to fill that role," Christian said.
He said he believes that he and Richards will have the same roles as last year.
"It will be our role to take the offense and put up some scoring. Then off the ice, we will be helping our younger players, but on the ice our job primarily will be point production," Christian said.
Recruited players this year
Christian is happy and honored that Washington selected him to recruit players for this year's team and believed in his capabilities to spot talent.
Christian said that they had 30 players in camp during their first practice and that they will keep 18 players on the team's roster.
"I played a very big role recruiting these 30 guys. I made a lot of calls to people in hockey. This is my 17th year as a pro and I have a lot of contacts," Christian said.
"Herb asked me to recruit guys as the assistant coach. He wanted more guys in camp and more competition. Last year, we didn't have a lot of players. The players we had were just the members of our team.
"I recommended the players to Herb and he made the ultimate decision which [players] to bring to camps. I really enjoyed it."
Because of Christian's experience and success, he is considered to be head-coaching material in professional hockey whenever he decides to hang up his skates as a player.
"I'm not 100 percent certain if [2006-07] will be my last season or not," Christian said. "I will see how it goes. I was really surprised how well it went last year."
The SteelHounds placed second in the Northeast Division behind Bossier-Shreveport and missed the playoffs.