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The Grizzlies’ den leader: A look at new head coach and general manager Rylan Ferster

The Victoria Grizzlies have replaced Craig Didmon as head coach and general manager with someone familiar to fans in BC’s capital. In fact, he was behind the bench in Victoria once before.

Rylan Ferster is the new head coach and general manager of the Victoria Grizzlies. The 53-year-old was the last head coach of the Victoria Salsa and was behind the bench when the team rebranded as the Grizzlies.

Ferster has had several coaching and management positions in the BCHL as well as being a former BCHL player with Vernon. However, as a coach, Ferster is most known for his time with the West Kelowna Warriors and leading them to the 2016 RBC Cup as national junior champion.

For this article, I’ll highlight all of his major head coaching jobs, from his time in Trail to his recent work in Philadelphia. Before that though, I’ll highlight his playing career.

From Nipawin to Germany

Ferster began his junior hockey career with the Nipawin Hawks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. In his final SJHL season of 1988-89, Ferster scored 88 points in 62 games for the Hawks. He joined the Vernon Lakers in 1989-90 and they beat New Westminster 6-5 in the Centennial Cup championship game as the host squad.

After his junior career, Ferster attended and played two years of Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference hockey at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Afterward, he headed to Slovakia, playing a pair of games for HK Dragon Presov during the 1994-95 season.

The following season, Ferster went to England and joined the Solihull Barons before jumping to the Guildford Flames mid-season.

After one more season with the Flames, Ferster signed with ESV Konigsbrunn in Germany’s Oberliga. At 28-years-old, the 1997-98 season in the third tier of German pro hockey was his final season as a player.

From Trail to Victoria

Ferster started his junior coaching career with the Trail Smoke Eaters in 1999 and was an assistant for two years. In 2001, Ferster joined the coaching staff of the expansion Salmon Arm Silverbacks as an assistant and served in that role for a pair of seasons. He was promoted to head coach ahead of the 2003-04 season.

During Ferster’s first season as bench boss in the Shuswap, the Silverbacks had the best record in the Interior Division at 42-17-1-0 and advanced to the Fred Page Cup final. There, the Nanaimo Clippers defeated Salmon Arm in five games.

After one year as the head guy in Salmon Arm, Ferster was hired by the Victoria Salsa as its head coach as a mid-season replacement, being brought in on Dec. 10, 2004. The Prince Albert, SK product has the distinction of being the final coach of the Salsa and the first coach of the Grizzlies as the franchise went through a name change. For 2005-06, Ferster added the director of hockey operations title to his portfolio in Victoria.

While coaching in Victoria, he saw several notable alumni play for him, including brothers Jamie and Jordie Benn as well as Tyler Bozak and Kyle Greentree.

Ferster’s first head coaching job in Victoria ended after the 2006-07 season and he returned to coaching in a familiar place.

A return to the Shuswap

On Nov. 1, 2007, the Silverbacks hired Ferster as head coach and general manager. He stayed on until the end of the 2009-10 season.

Before the 2010-11 season, Ferster joined the Kootenay International Hockey League’s Revelstoke Grizzlies as head coach and general manager. The following season, he was back in the BCHL with the West Kelowna Warriors.

Ferster served as head coach and general manager of the Warriors for seven seasons. Much like his first go-around in Victoria, he went through a franchise name change while a team’s coach. Ferster was the last head coach of the Westside Warriors and the first head coach of the West Kelowna Warriors.

During the 2016 post-season, the Warriors made it all the way to the RBC Cup final game and defeated the Lloydminster Bobcats 4-0 to win the national championship.

Ferster stayed on with the Warriors until Aug. 21, 2018. He resigned and didn’t coach junior hockey for a couple of years. Ferster returned to coaching in 2020 as bench boss of the Philadelphia Hockey Club in the National Collegiate Development Conference. He was also an assistant coach for Philadelphia’s US Premier Hockey League squad.

The future in Victoria

In this foray with the Grizzlies, Ferster inherits a team that finished fifth in the Coastal Conference during the 2021-22 season and was defeated by Langley in the first round of the playoffs. Victoria has several players moving on to NCAA schools and others who aged out of junior hockey. No doubt, Ferster will be busy during the off season putting his stamp on the team.

As for Didmon, he told Victoria Times Colonist sports writer Cleve Dheensaw that he’s taking a break and will “later maybe see what other opportunities are ahead.” Didmon’s full-time work is currently as a teacher at Dunsmuir Middle School in Colwood, BC. He leaves behind an impressive legacy during his time behind the bench with the Grizzlies.