Jason Christie is in his second season as head coach of the Ontario Reign, having led the Reign to a Pacific Division title last season. Christie was the 2010-11 CHL Coach of the Year as he took the Bloomington PraireThunder from four consecutive losing seasons to a 37-22-07 record and playoff appearance. Bloomington was also honored as the CHL’s “Hardest Working Team.”
2012-13 is Christie’s 11th as a head coach. He was the head coach of the ECHL’s Peoria Rivermen from 2000-01 to 2004-05, the ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies from 2005-06 to 2007-07, Bloomington’s head coach in 2010-11 and Ontario’s head coach the last two seasons. Christie also served as an assistant coach with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves in 2008-09 and 2009-10.
LAKings.com had a chance to chat with Christie about his role with Reign and his thoughts on how the season has started.
LAKings.com: With the season in full swing, what do you make of your team’s performance up to this point?
Christie: Well, we just got back from a long road trip. We have a good group of guys and a lot of returning guys from last year’s team. Right now we’re a .500 team, but we’ve been playing better than that and that’s something that we’ve got to keep plugging away here.
LAKings.com: What are your expectations for the team this season?
Christie: Last year we had a good year and won, and we want to continue that. The best thing is knowing that we have the character that can show up every night and come ready to play. Our fans are supportive and we have good attendance. It’s a good place to play hockey that’s for sure. We need to make sure we’re prepared each and every night to get ready for battle.
LAKings.com: Which players have you seen elevate their play so far this season?
Christie: [Dan] DaSilva, even though he’s an older guy. [Vincent] LoVerde on the back end with [Chris] Huxley are really making huge strides. Obviously C.J. Stretch is in the best shape he’s been in, so it’s good to see those guys with their commitment and obviously they want to be next level players.
LAKings.com: Which teams do you see as being the Reign’s toughest opponents?
Christie: With the lockout every team is good and makes our league that much better with the push down effect with the players. Each and every night is a game of hockey and that’s why you have to be mentally and physically prepared because every game is going to be a challenge. There’s no weak link in our conference and that’s something where we have to be extremely focused.
LAKings.com: As a former ECHL player and winner of the Kelly Cup, how do you keep your players motivated over the course of the 72-game season?
Christie: That’s the biggest thing at this level. Myself and [assistant coach Mark] Hardy, we want to make sure we’re consistent day in and day out. Once guys leave the rink obviously that’s their time, but we ask them to come and be mentally prepared each and every day whether it’s a game or practice.
LAKings.com: What do you see as your toughest challenge this season?
Christie: Every year you have challenges. Game in and game out its different things. We just got to make sure we keep getting better as a team all-around. That comes with preparation.
LAKings.com: How do you train your players to get to the next level?
Christie: The biggest thing is that everybody has a different role. Down at this level you are playing every single scenario whether it’s a penalty kill, power play, or 5-on-5, you’re called upon each and every shift. That’s something that is a part of developing younger guys and giving them those opportunities every situation.
LAKings.com: What does it mean to you to be affiliated with the Kings following their Stanley Cup season?
Christie: It’s awesome. They’ve been great. We’ve got a lot of Kings fans here down in So-Cal and it’s been good. It was great hockey to watch in the playoffs and to be able to be in the town where they won it in, that just boosts hockey all around.