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Rockets head coach stranger to WHL

Expectations high in Kelowna
By Gregg Drinnan
August 4, 2015 9:20 A.M.
Kelowna head coach Brad Ralph (left) and general manager Bruce Hamilton meet the press. (Kelowna Rockets photo)

The Kelowna Rockets have signed Brad Ralph to a three-year contract as their next head coach.
Ralph, 34, had been the head coach and director of hockey operations with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. He becomes the ninth head coach in Rockets’ history as he takes over from one-and-done Dan Lambert, who now is an assistant coach with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
Lambert, an assistant coach with the Rockets for five seasons, replaced Ryan Huska, who moved into the Calgary Flames organization. In Lambert’s only season as head coach, the Rockets won the WHL championship. They went on to lose the Memorial Cup final, 2-1 in OT, to the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.
During his playing career, Ralph, from Richmond, Ont., spent three seasons (1997-2000) with the Generals. He was a second-round selection by the Phoenix Coyotes in the NHL’s 1999 draft and would go onto an eight-year pro career in North America and Europe. That included one game in the NHL, with the Coyotes. Ralph was the captain on four of the nine teams on which he played.
When Ralph was hired in Idaho, he was the youngest head coach in Steelheads’ history. In Kelowna, he is two years older than Huska was when he was named head coach at 32.
Ralph, who hadn’t been to Kelowna prior to Monday, spent three seasons in Idaho, after working for two seasons as head coach of the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Augusta RiverHawks. He was the SPHL coach of the year for 2010-11; last season, he was a finalist for the ECHL’s coach-of-the-year award after the Steelheads went 48-18-6.
Lambert resigned on July 6, meaning Bruce Hamilton, the Rockets’ president and general manager, spent almost a month looking for a replacement.
“We’re really excited,” Hamilton said in a news release. “Brad has a tremendous coaching record. I believe we found someone who fits in with the culture we have here. He fully understands what we expect as an organization. This has been a process that we would have liked to have move quicker but we feel Brad is an excellent fit for the organization.”
When Lambert left, Hamilton said that assistant coaches Kris Mallette and Travis Crickard weren’t candidates for head coach but that both would return for another season.
Shortly after Lambert left, Hamilton thought he had a replacement in Ian Herbers, a former WHL defenceman who at the time was the head coach of the two-time CIS defending-champion U of Alberta Golden Bears. However, the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers swooped down and hired Herbers as an assistant coach.
That turned out to be good news for Ralph, the Rockets’ third coach in as many seasons. The last two each won a Western Conference championship in his final season.
“Usually after a team has success, it dips down, but that’s not going to be the case here in my mind because we return so many quality players,” Hamilton told Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier. “Our expectation is that this team will be another one of the top teams in the Western Hockey League again this year. So we weren’t going to get somebody that was just starting out and understanding the process of learning how to win. I wanted somebody that knows how to win coming in here.”
Fisher has more right here.

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