One of the biggest contributors to a successful first season of minor league hockey in Augusta will be back for season No. 2.
Coach Brad Ralph confirmed Thursday that he will remain with the Augusta RiverHawks for the 2011-12 season.
"We have officially come to terms with Brad, so he will be returning," general manager Mark Richards said. "We know we're in good hands on the ice with him. It was a top priority for us to make sure we were on the same page."
In only his first season as a head coach, Ralph helped the expansion RiverHawks shock the Southern Professional Hockey League with a run to the league's championship series. He earned the SPHL's coach of the year award after his team finished second in the regular season with a 35-21 record. His team, pieced together last fall and made up largely of young, unproven talent, won 11 games in a row at one point and set a league record for road wins.
"He was a first-year guy when came here, and now we're retaining the coach of the year," Richards said.
Though Ralph originally signed a two-year commitment with the team, his first-year success might have provided an opportunity for him to move up the minor league coaching ladder. But the 30-year-old Columbia, S.C., resident said another year in the SPHL will benefit him in the long run.
"It was a good first year, but you've got to show consistency, and to have a successful coaching career it takes doing it year after year," Ralph said. "And this works out for my family and the organization."
Ralph will look to prove that his rookie season as a coach was no fluke in October when the RiverHawks begin a second season at James Brown Arena.
The announcement came just a few days before the RiverHawks are to submit their 13-man protected list to the league office in order to keep most of the first-year Augusta squad intact for next season.
Richards said the possibility of league expansion and a resulting expansion draft has required teams to think carefully about which players to protect, and locking in their head coach for another year will give Ralph the time and clear direction on retaining the right skaters.
"Two days after the season ended I started getting calls from agents and players wanting to play for us next season," Ralph said.
RiverHawks team captain and reigning league MVP Matt Auffrey and team therapist and equipment manager Brian Patafie have also committed to return to Augusta for the 2011-12 season.