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Feature: Behind the Bench with Brad Ralph

Thursday, January 21st
Feature: Behind the Bench with Brad Ralph

After playing professional hockey for nine years, Brad Ralph retired and slowly began to transition away from the game and into a real estate career. However, this new career lasted only nine months when hockey returned to Ralph’s life. 

In 2010, the Augusta RiverHawks of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) offered Ralph his first coaching position. It was the RiverHawks’ inaugural season in the SPHL, and Ralph was the first coach in the organization’s short history. 

Looking at Ralph’s accolades now, it is difficult to imagine that he had a rocky start to his coaching career. At the start of his first season, Ralph thought his coaching career might be over before it began. “We lost the first two exhibition games, and we lost the next three regular season games,” said Ralph. “I remember the CEO of the team was walking through the hallway and he was yelling that people are getting fired.”

Most coaches in this situation might crumble under that pressure and environment, not Ralph. Rather, this nerve-racking experience served as a pivotal moment in his young career, forcing him to realize that he wanted to make coaching hockey a lifelong career.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’m loving what I’m doing, I do not want to get fired three games into my first year,’” shared Ralph. 

This shaky start to his career was short-lived as the season quickly turned around for the better. On the same night Ralph thought his job was in danger, he led the RiverHawks to an overtime win. After this tough win, the team went on a winning streak and completed the season with a 35-21-0 record. The RiverHawks also reached the SPHL final in the inaugural season and Ralph was named the SBK Coach of the Year. 

Ralph’s first season as a head coach forecasted the great success to come in his coaching career. He completed another winning season with the RiverHawks before moving onto the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads. In three seasons with the Steelheads, Ralph led the team to playoff appearances every season as a head coach. 

Then, he coached a single season with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and led the Rockets to a 48-20-0 record and reached the WHL Conference Championship game. 

After a short stop in the WHL, Ralph met with Craig Brush, Hertz Arena CEO and Florida Everblades General Manager, and returned to the ECHL as the Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations for the Everblades. In terms of his job title, there are many working parts that fall under his responsibilities. Not only does Ralph coach the team, but he oversees hockey operations, which includes ensuring trades and other transactions are running smoothly.

Even with these important responsibilities, Ralph has continued his streak of success with the Everblades over the past four seasons. 

Ralph will be entering his fifth season with the Everblades and 11th overall season as head coach. A few of his notable accolades include a .699 career winning percentage and a career record of  443-181-54. Every team that Ralph has coached completed the season with a winning record and were eligible for the postseason. 

“He is a coach that has a winning atmosphere,” said Everblades Forward, Logan Roe. “He demands a lot out of his players and his coaching staff. By running at that level, it really pushes guys to meet him. You look at his records and he has been really successful over the years.” 

Success as a head coach in professional sports is a feat in itself, but consistent success across different levels and organizations is truly exceptional. It begs the question: how does a coach reach this success and maintain it at such a high level?

When it comes to his experience in hockey, Ralph has plenty. In the 2000’s, Ralph played 383 professional games in the ECHL and AHL. He also appeared in a single NHL game for, then, Phoenix Coyotes. This playing experience combined with coaching across various levels has provided Ralph with great learning opportunities to be successful as a head coach. 

“My experiences as a player and coach that I had, the good and the bad, have led me to be a better coach,” said Ralph. “Every year there is so much you can learn from, whether it was a good year or a bad year. I think I have tried to take a lot of those lessons to improve my teams for the better.”

Ralph continuously looks for more opportunities to improve as a coach. His own coachability is a trait that sets him apart from many other coaches. 

“Every year I feel like I have developed a different aspect of what a coach brings to the table, and that is part of why I love what I do,” said Ralph. “It’s the opportunity to grow and to find ways to improve your hockey players and hockey team.”

When it comes to his coaching philosophy, Ralph does not have a secret formula for his success. Rather, his coaching philosophy is simple: team-first. 

“If everything you do and say is what is best for the team, then you are creating a common goal,” said Ralph. “Every team is different, some get it very quickly and some it takes a little longer, but it has to be a common thread in your everyday life. Whether it is how you are practicing, how you are communicating with your players, or how you are respecting your players with days off or managing their time at the rink.” 

Although this coaching philosophy seems straightforward, it has allowed for great success for himself and his players. Under Ralph, many players have moved on to play at the higher levels of professional hockey, including the NHL. Any young professional player would be ecstatic to be coached by Ralph solely because of that reason. Yet, the successful coach is highly respected among all his players for reasons beyond his winning record. 

“Ralphy has a history of winning, and it comes as no surprise,” said Everblades Defenseman, Ben Masella. “You can see it every day. He is constantly working hard to get better as a team and as a coach. Whether it is through video, practices, meetings or speeches, his hard work is reflective in everything he does. As players we believe in him and what he brings to the table, and his philosophy on work ethic is contagious.”

Ralph fosters real relationships with his players on and off the ice. He wants to help players reach their goals, whether it is in hockey or in life. He fully embodies his team-first mentality, which may be the main contributor to his overall success. 

Wins and losses typically determine the legacies of coaches, but it is clear that being a successful coach goes beyond the long film sessions and managing the bench. When asked about what he wants his legacy to be Ralph said, “A family man that cared about his organization, his fans, his players, and loved to win.”

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