When the 2016-17 Western Hockey League campaign faces off in September, the Kelowna Rockets will be led by their third new head coach in as many seasons.
The Rockets are in the market for a new bench boss after the club and Brad Ralph this week mutually agreed to go their separate ways.
The 34-year-old coach from Richmond, ON was hired last August to replace Dan Lambert who a year earlier had also stepped aside after just one season at the helm.
Ralph guided the Rockets to a 48-2-4-0 regular season record and the team’s third consecutive trip to the Western Conference final, before being swept from the playoffs by the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Ralph coached the previous five seasons in the pro ranks—all with winning records—before joining Kelowna, including the last three with Idaho Steelheads of the East Coast Hockey League.
Rockets head coach Bruce Hamilton said coaching in a vastly different environment—minor pro as opposed to major junior—wasn’t a simple transition for Ralph.
“This was a big challenge for him coming here,” Hamilton added. “One, because of the expectations we have and, two, not having worked in junior hockey…and that was a real adjustment.
“The day-to-day commitment to the kids at this level takes a lot, you deal with them 24 hours a day…it’s not like the pros. It’s not a knock on the kind of coach he is, because he’s had good success.”
As well as Ralph did in his first season in charge of a WHL team, Hamilton believes the young coach’s skills may be better suited to the pro game.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Brad, I think he’s a real good coach,” said Hamilton. “He came from coaching at the pro ranks and I think he’ll be an excellent coach again at that level.”
Ralph couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday, but did make the following statement in a press release issued by the team.
“I’m appreciative of the opportunity given to me by the Rockets this past season,” said Ralph. “I’m very proud of the success which the club enjoyed in reaching the Western Conference finals. I wish the club and its players the best of success in the future.”
After coming within one shot of a Memorial Cup title last year, the Rockets had hoped to make another lengthy run this season under Ralph’s guidance.
And while making it to the third round of the postseason was better than 18 other teams in the WHL, it still fell below the standard the Rockets and their fans have become accustomed to.
“You can’t knock the record we had with Brad, but he did inherit a good team,” Hamilton said. “In his defence, this is not an easy place to come into where expectations are high and everything is new to you, the other coaches, the players, the organization.
“We’ve developed our players and a wonderful culture here and we want to keep that going.”
Unlike last year when Lambert resigned in early July, Hamilton said the Rockets will have plenty of time to search for a replacement for Ralph.
Hamilton said the resumes have already started rolling in and expects there will be plenty of qualified candidates to consider over the next several weeks.
“This time we’re going to have lots of time to meet with them and get to know them, see what each of them have to offer,” he said. “You generally want to close in on someone before the NHL draft, so that gives up a big jump on where we were at last year.”
Coaches interested in appealing for the position can email Bruce Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.