Augusta’s hockey team has a new leader. And he’s familiar with the enemy.
Augusta RiverHawks general manager Mark Richards announced the hiring of Rob Miller as head coach and director of hockey operations at a news conference Monday morning at James Brown Arena.
The 33-year-old former defenseman has already proven his worth as a head coach, winning the Federal Hockey League’s 2010-11 coach of the year award in his first of two season with the Brooklyn Aviators.
Miller also played three seasons with the Knoxville Ice Bears, Augusta’s main rival in the Southern Professional Hockey League.
“Obviously I’m a Hawk now and that’s the way it is,” Miller said. “I played with their coach (Mike Craigen) over there, and we won a championship together. But it’s all about winning hockey games and that’s all we’re going to do.”
Miller replaces Brad Ralph, the only head coach in franchise history, who led the RiverHawks to the SPHL finals in their inaugural season and won the regular season championship this past year.
Ralph left the team just 11 days ago for a head coaching position in the ECHL.
“It’s great for Brad. It’s tough for us that we lost him,” team owner Bob Kerzner said. “But we’ve got a great replacement in Rob. And at the same time I think it can also help us with players for the upcoming year and in the future.”
Miller was greeted by about 30 RiverHawks fans in a meeting room at James Brown Arena. He sat in the shadow of the SPHL’s William B. Coffey Cup, which the team earned in March after posting the best regular season record in the league.
Miller said he recognized the big shoes he has to fill and plans to maintain the same type of defensive-minded squad RiverHawks fans have gotten used to seeing on the ice.
“This is a step up for me. Just look at what Brad did,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for me here, and I’m glad Bob (Kerzner) and Mark (Richards) chose me.”
While the SPHL has yet to release a 2012-13 schedule, the team did announce that it will begin its third season on the road against the Mississippi RiverKings over the last weekend of October.
The RiverHawks will play their home opener Friday, Nov. 2.
Kerzner said nine players have already committed to attend the team’s training camp in October, including Drew Baker, Curtis Megginson and Matt Auffrey.