Thursday was a bittersweet day for Augusta RiverHawks president Mark Richards.
The Southern Professional Hockey team formally revealed the departure of popular coach Brad Ralph, but also announced it was bringing back team captain Matt Auffrey.
Although the RiverHawks did not specify which team Ralph is going to, several media outlets have reported Ralph is taking an ECHL job as coach of the Idaho Steelheads in Boise. He is scheduled to be introduced Saturday.
“It was a matter of time with Brad, let’s be honest. The guy did a tremendous job for two years and he’s had opportunities for both seasons,” Richards said. “We’re proud parents today. We got to watch one of our own climb the ladder and hopefully elevate himself to his ultimate dreams, which are pretty high. You know what, he’s on the right path.”
Ralph’s move was unexpected. The team sent out a release earlier this month announcing he would return for another season in Augusta. However, the team said at Thursday’s news conference at James Brown Arena that the opportunity in Boise arose after his verbal agreement was announced.
“It has been my honor to coach the Augusta RiverHawks for the last two seasons. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the part I played in helping to build a strong foundation for this winning organization,” Ralph, who did not attend the news conference, said in a statement. “My family and I will cherish the memories we’ve made here and I know I will look back on these times as special ones.”
In two seasons with the RiverHawks, Ralph guided the club to 71 wins. In Augusta’s first season, 2010-11, he received SPHL Coach of the Year honors after leading the RiverHawks to the finals of the playoffs where they lost to Mississippi.
In 2011-12, Augusta posted the league’s best regular-season mark and only lost three times on home ice. But the RiverHawks were upset by Huntsville in the first round of the playoffs.
Richards said he’s already received several résumés and expects more to come into his office in the next few days. He plans to make a decision soon, he said.
“We do have some strong people we are considering as finalists, if you will,” said Richards, who also must hire an equipment manager, athletic trainer and sales person before the fall.
Encouraging news for the dozen or so RiverHawks fans who attended the news conference was the return of Auffrey.
The former league MVP said he contemplated hanging up his skates but decided against it.
“It’s a long season,” Auffrey said. “The itch comes back watching the Stanley Cup, and you can’t turn down being able to hit people, fight and score some goals again.”
Auffrey said he and the other players are looking for a coach similar to Ralph.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily age but it’s good to have a guy who’s played recently,” Auffrey said. “The game’s a little bit different than it was back in the ’60s and ’70s. I think we as a team work good with a player’s coach but also a guy who will get in your face and tell you to pick it up.”