In five seasons as a head coach at the professional level, Brad Ralph never had a losing record.
Based on the major junior team he’s inheriting, there’s no reason to believe his streak of competence will end in 2015-16.
Still, Ralph knows it’s more than just winning records that have become the norm for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets.
With three consecutive 50-win seasons, followed by a fifth trip to the Memorial Cup by the franchise last spring, expectations in Kelowna have never been higher.
“I’m getting a pretty good sense of the legacy that’s been established here,” said Ralph, who was hired in August after three seasons with Idaho of the East Coast Hockey League.
“I just know that my goal every year is to win every game wherever I coach, whether that’s realistic or not.
“There’s certainly an awareness of the expectations here,” added Ralph, “but I’ll put enough pressure on myself, I won’t need any reminders or motivation from anywhere else.”
In addition to learning about the organization largely from scratch, Ralph has had to adjust to coaching younger, less experienced players than at the pro level. However, thanks to the talent and quality of players he’s been handed, Ralph said the transition has been relatively smooth.
“There’s a little bit of a difference in terms of maturity where the players are at in terms of their preparation and focus,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a learning curve but for the most part, it’s been good. We have a great group of players to work with, so that helps a lot.”
And while Ralph hasn’t had much time to get up to speed on all aspects of his job, Rockets’ GM Bruce Hamilton is encouraged by the 34-year-old coach’s progress.
“He’s come a long way in a short period of time,” Hamilton said. “It’s not easy, a whole new team to deal with. He’s just learning about these guys but I think he’ll do just fine.”
With a group of skilled and experienced forwards returning, a young and mobile defensive corps, and solid veteran goaltending to fall back on, Ralph expects the Rockets to once again be a handful for opposing teams.
“We’ll play fast, we’ll play an up-tempo style, and be creative off the rush,” he said. “All that being said, we’re stressing that we’re not sacrificing defensive play, we’re still going to play a complete game in all zones.
“…and in goal, with (Whistle and Herringer) you can’t do much better than that.”
And as much as Ralph has learned about his team in a few short weeks, he said the most substantial learning will happen once the puck drops to open the regular season.
“I am excited to play games,” said Ralph. “I think it’s an easier way to get a feel for the players, to establish the style of game that we’re going to play and who fits in where. Everybody’s excited to get going.”