Rylan Ferster remembers coming in to coach the Victoria Salsa of the B.C. Hockey League but leaving the Victoria Grizzlies. Same team, different nickname following the changeover in 2006-07.
“I can say I was the last Salsa coach and first Grizzlies coach,” quipped Ferster.
He can now also say he is a two-time coach of the club, after being named head coach and general manager of the Grizzlies on Tuesday. Ferster replaces Craig Didmon, whose 12-season run with the club as assistant coach, head coach and GM, has come to an end.
Ferster’s first 2 ½ season tenure on the Salsa/Grizzlies bench included coaching future Dallas Stars captain and Olympic gold-medallist Jamie Benn, Stanley Cup-champion Tyler Bozak and NHLer Jordie Benn. Ferster also coached 2004 NHL first-round draft picks Travis Zajac and Chris Chucko with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. He will inherit a current Grizzlies team that includes projected 2023 first-round NHL draft pick Matthew Wood.
“[Wood] is a special talent. I have been fortunate to coach NHL first rounders in the past and am comfortable with that,” said Ferster.
Grizzlies majority-owner and governor Ron Walchuk said the head coach and GM switch was made for “a fresh change.”
“I believe Rylan Ferster will be one of the top coaches in the BCHL,” said Walchuk.
He already has been.
Ferster, 53, guided the 2015-16 West Kelowna Warriors to the BCHL and RBC Cup national Junior A titles and took Salmon Arm to the 2003-04 BCHL final before losing to the Nanaimo Clippers. He left West Kelowna following the 2017-18 BCHL season to coach Philadelphia HC of the junior National Collegiate Development Conference the past two seasons.
“I believe in accountability, and coach young players to be complete, 200-foot players,” said Ferster.
As a player, Ferster used that motto himself to make the BCHL and win the 1990 Centennial [later RBC] Cup national Junior A championship with the Vernon Lakers.
About coming full circle to the Grizzlies bench, Ferster added: “It’s a special place I am familiar with, both my daughters were born in Victoria, and it’s fantastic to be back in a great league with great players and great coaches.”
Walchuk lauded Didmon, whose contract expired at the end of the 2021-22 season, for his long service with the Grizzlies.
“I have nothing but respect for what Craig Didmon achieved with this club,” said Walchuk.
“Craig was a great recruiter and he coached four NHL draft picks [including first-rounder Alex Newhook of Colorado Avalanche] and had some good results and accomplishments. We were not dissatisfied at all.”
The Grizzlies went 29-25 in the 2021-22 BCHL regular season, good enough for fifth place in the Coastal Conference, before losing to the fourth-seed Langley Rivermen in the first round of the playoffs. The high-water marks during Didmon’s Grizzlies tenure were in reaching the league playoff semifinals three times, including in Newhook’s last season with the Grizzlies in 2018-19.
“Both sides were ready to move on. It felt like it came to the end of its time,” said Didmon, who was Grizzlies assistant coach for three seasons and head coach and GM for nine seasons.
“I had a great opportunity to coach and manage at this level in my hometown and we attained consistency and we moved on a lot of players to NCAA Div. 1 and to the pros,” added the 50-year-old, who is also a teacher at Dunsmuir Middle School.
“It’s time to take a break and later maybe see what other opportunities are ahead.”