WHEELING, W.Va. – The Wheeling Nailers have tabbed Mark French to be the 19th head coach and Director of Hockey Operations as the team begins its 29th season in Wheeling.
The two-time Calder Cup-winning coach brings a wealth of winning experience to Wheeling and it will be needed, as the club has missed the Kelly Cup Playoffs each of the last four seasons. French replaces Mike Bavis, who went 55-61-11-4 in two full seasons behind the Nailers bench.
The 49-year-old French has been a head coach for 14 of the previous 15 seasons. His coaching career started as an assistant under current Cincinnati Cyclones head coach, Matt Thomas, in 2004-05 with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies.
After a season in the ECHL, French took the head coaching job with the Wichita Thunder, then in the Central Hockey League. In two-plus seasons with the Thunder, French guided his teams to 70 wins and two playoff appearances, but was fired 18 games into the 2007-08 season after a 4-13-0 start.
After his dismissal in Wichita, French took an assistant coaching position with the Hershey Bears, where he would spend the next five-plus years, winning two Calder Cup titles. He took over the Bears and led them to the American Hockey League record for wins in a season with 60. With French at the helm, the Bears made the postseason in all four years with French behind the bench going 180-100-32 in the process. His .627 winning percentage is third all-time in the AHL for coaches with at least 300 games coached.
After four years in Hershey, French went overseas, spending a year with Zagreb Medvescak of the KHL, where he took the team to the playoffs in their inaugural season, but ultimately lost in the first round. In 2014-15, French returned to North America to coach the Calgary Hitman of the WHL for three seasons, making the playoffs in each season. Most recently the Milton, Ontario native coached for HC Fribourg-Gotteron in Switzerland.
“I’m certainly really, really happy to be a part of the Wheeling organization,” French said during his introductory remarks. “Looking forward to the challenge of coaching in the ECHL again, and very proud to be a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins affiliation.”
French made it clear that everyone will know the team’s identity and what he expects from them every night.
“For me, competitiveness and speed are two things that have always been important to me as the coach and are really representative of the current Pittsburgh Penguins philosophies,” he said.
The native of Milton, Ontario said several things excited him about joining the Nailers.
“I was looking for an opportunity where I could challenge myself as a coach and work for an organization that would allow me and the team to be successful, but also be a part of a greater organization. So, looking at this opportunity, the relationship between Wheeling and Pittsburgh was certainly a determining factor.”
Throughout his coaching career, French has had the opportunity to work with some outstanding players who have gone on to have tremendous success in the NHL. Highlighting the top players are Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Braden Holtby, Matthieu Perreault, and Jake Virtanen. He has also had the pleasure of working with some former Nailers, led by Grant McNeill and Dany Sabourin as players, and David Aebischer, who worked on his coaching staff.