Kelowna Rockets owner-GM Bruce Hamilton took a page out of the Edmonton Oil Kings’ playbook to find his replacement for Dan Lambert, who stepped down in early July to become an assistant coach for the Buffalo Sabres. He plucked Brad Ralph out of the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads just as the Oil Kings did with their former head coach, Derek Laxdal, in 2010.
“We’re really excited,” Hamilton stated in the 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 moved quicker but we feel Brad is an excellent fit for the organization.”
Ralph, who signed a three-year contract with the Rockets, spent the last three years as Idaho’s head coach following a two-year stint with the SPHL’s Augusta RiverHawks. He doesn’t have any CHL coaching experience, but he did play three seasons with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals in the late 1990s. He followed up his junior career with eight seasons of professional hockey, including a single game with the then-Phoenix Coyotes in 2000-01.
At 34, Ralph is on the younger side, but has had notable success in his young coaching career. He held a 132-64-20 record with the Steelheads and was the runner-up for the ECHL’s Coach of the Year award last season.
The Richmond, Ont., native will need to carry over that success from the pros to major junior to fill the shoes of Lambert, who led the Rockets to a WHL championship last season as a rookie head coach. Moreover, he’s joining a franchise that is used to winning after capturing four Ed Chynoweth Cups and making 12 playoff appearances in the last 13 years.
“The Rockets have a great tradition of winning and I’m looking forward to learning why this team has been so successful over the years,” Ralph said in the release. “I think there is a great group of players coming back here and I’m excited to guide them back to where they were last year.”
On top of that, there’s a bit of added pressure on Ralph’s shoulders because of how he beat out tons of coaches for the job. Bench bosses lined up from the four corners of the earth to apply for the opportunity to work with Hamilton and esteemed head scout Lorne Frey.
Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton says there were around 100 applicants for the job. #whl
— Doyle Potenteau (@Doyle_Potenteau) August 4, 2015
Ralph takes over a club that will be hard-pressed to win its second-consecutive Ed Chynoweth Cup. The Rockets won’t see their Memorial Cup team’s top three talents return: Edmonton Oilers prized prospect Leon Draisiatl, Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Josh Morrissey and Washington Capitals second-rounder Maidson Bowey. In addition, impact overagers Tyrell Goulbourne and Cole Martin will be missed.
Nonetheless, with high-impact forwards such as Arizona Coyotes pick Nick Merkley, San Jose Sharks prospect Rourke Chartier and Nashville Predators draft choice Justin Kirkland in their arsenal, Kelowna clearly has the talent to make some noise in the playoffs. It’s within their grasp to win the B.C. Division for a fourth-straight year.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen