Ask any general manager in minor pro sports and they will likely tell you the mid-offseason coaching change ranks up there with things they dread the most.
Not that coaching changes are a good thing, mind you.
Think about it, the coach has signed players to fit in his system for another season, while the team has spent time and money publicizing the coach and players through signing announcements and other promotional avenues, only for the chance they may get shipped elsewhere when a new coach comes in.
Oilers General Manager Taylor Hall was presented with such a scenario earlier this month when Bruce Ramsay announced he would be leaving the Oilers organization after six seasons — three of which he led the team to the playoffs.
For Ramsay, it was an opportunity too good to pass up. It’s a chance to coach in an area where he made his name as a tough, rugged hockey player, to coach with his good friend Todd Nelson and last, but certainly not least, to be apart of the Detroit Red Wings organization, widely regarded as one of the best-ran organizations in hockey.
So how would Tulsa respond? By going after and getting the home run hire. On Thursday, they announced Jason Christie, the second winningest coach in ECHL history, as the team’s 13th head coach since their resurrection in 1992.
“Jason’s track record in our league is difficult to match. He has proven that he knows what it takes to succeed at this level and I’m confident that he will get the very most out of our players to help this organization achieve a new level of success. Our fans are going to be extremely proud of the team Jason puts on the ice and his commitment to winning,” said Oilers General Manager Taylor Hall.
Christie has amassed 483 wins all-time and is just nine wins shy of becoming the league’s all-time wins leader. He has recorded 40+ win seasons in eight of his 13 years behind the bench, peaking with 48 wins in the 2002-03 season with the Peoria Rivermen. More importantly than the wins, is his success in the playoffs, something Tulsa has not had much of since winning their lone championship in 1993. While Christie has yet to win the Kelly Cup, he has won atleast one playoff round in seven of 13 seasons behind an ECHL bench, and won atleast two playoff rounds three times (2001, 08, 15.)
“I’m honored to have this opportunity to coach in a place that has a hockey tradition like Tulsa,” Christie commented. “It feels great to be back in the middle of the country and to be part of an organization that is so well supported by the ownership and the fans. I’m looking forward to getting started on putting a great team on the ice.”
There is little doubt that with Christie behind the bench, the Oilers can now be considered one of the legit teams contending for division and conference championships. Christie has won four division championships as a coach (2001, 12, 13, 14) and his Ontario Reign team held a 3-1 series edge in the Western Conference Finals last season before Allen stormed back to win the series. In the regular season, the Reign and Americans split both games played.
For Oilers fans, the combination of the Christie hire and a yet-to-be announced affiliation means it’s a great time to rep the oil derrick again.
Look for there to be some bumps in the road early on, but there is little doubt that Thursday’s announcement is a big one for Oilers hockey that will resonate for years to come.