For the past three months, Augusta RiverHawks owner Bob Kerzner has spent his time building a minor league staff full of hockey veterans.
At a news conference this afternoon, Kerzner went in a different direction by introducing a new, youthful face to the staff.
Brad Ralph, a 29-year-old Canadian less than two years removed from his playing days, was announced as the RiverHawks' first head coach. As a former Augusta Lynx team captain, the young coach is no stranger to James Brown Arena and the local hockey community.
"I'm real excited to be back here in Augusta. I have a lot of fond memories playing here, and I was fortunate enough to meet my wife here," Ralph said. "October can't come fast enough."
The RiverHawks will begin their inaugural season in the Southern Professional Hockey League in October. It will also be Ralph's first season as a head coach. Both Kerzner and RiverHawks general manager Gilles Richard said Ralph's youth, energy and preparation made him stand out during the interview process.
"With experience, what you have sometimes is age," Kerzner said. "We felt it was important to have some balance with some young thinking and some young ideas.
"We were looking for someone who really, really wanted to be here in Augusta and not just use us as a stepping stone."
Ralph, who lives in Columbia, said he served as a player and assistant coach during the 2007-08 season with the ECHL's Columbia Inferno under head coach Troy Mann.
The RiverHawks have already claimed six players in the SPHL's expansion draft, but Ralph said the selections made by Richard were in line with the type of team he hopes to build.
"I think it's important, because we're an expansion team, to have a young team. We want players who want to be here and are motivated to play hockey," he said. "I think it's important to have a fast team that's tough. Augusta's a smaller arena so we need guys that can bang but can also put the puck in the net."
Kerzner also showed off the RiverHawks home and away jerseys at the news conference, which include a red, white and dark blue scheme.