Idaho is hoping its youngest coach in franchise history is the right man to get the ECHL hockey team back to the Kelly Cup Finals.
Brad Ralph, 31, will be named Saturday as the sixth coach in Steelheads history and fourth since the team joined the ECHL for the 2003-04 season, the Idaho Statesman confirmed Friday.
Ralph spent the past two seasons as coach of the Augusta (Ga.) RiverHawks of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
It was time for him to move up, said Matt Auffrey, team captain of the RiverHawks.
Hes above the SPHL, and I think hell fit in really well there in Idaho.
Ralph, from Richmond, Ontario, was the SPHL coach of the year in 2010-11 even though Augusta lost in the finals of the playoffs. Last year, the RiverHawks had the best record in the league during the regular season and lost only three home games, but the team was upset in the first round of the postseason.
It was a matter of time with Brad, lets be honest, RiverHawks President Mark Richards told the Augusta Chronicle. The guy did a tremendous job for two years and hes had opportunities for both seasons. ... Hes on the right path.
Ralph replaces Hardy Sauter, who parted ways with the Steelheads in May after two seasons.
The Augusta franchise has existed for only two seasons, and went 71-33-8 in those two years under Ralph.
Hes a really dedicated guy, said Auffrey, who played both seasons under Ralph. We had some pretty good success here in Augusta.
Ralph played nine seasons as a pro, including stints in the ECHL, AHL, Italy and one NHL game with Phoenix. Auffrey played against Ralph when they were in the ECHL.
He scored over 20 goals a couple of times in the (ECHL), Auffrey said. He won faceoffs, and he was hard to play against, hard to get around. He takes the game seriously.
Hes offensive, but also wants you to be responsible defensively. He doesnt want to get scored on, I can tell you that much.
Bryan Hince was Idahos backup goalie last season, and the team holds his ECHL rights. He said Friday that a return to Idaho sounds even more appealing after hearing about the hiring of Ralph.
I played against him when I was with Knoxville and he was coaching Augusta, Hince said. Hes a great coach. He turned that whole organization into one of the best organizations in the league. ... They didnt have that talented of guys, but he just played the right system.
Hince said he called Idahos front office and congratulated the team on the hire.
It makes me want to go back (to Boise), he said. I was always planning on going back, and this just adds to that and makes me want to go back even more. Its a great hire by Idaho, and theyre going in the right direction.
Ralph will make his first appearance as the Steelheads coach when he throws out the first pitch at the Boise Hawks game Saturday. The game begins at 7:15 p.m.