A lot has changed for Rylan Ferster over the last 26 years, but his focus has remained largely the same: win Canada’s National Junior A Championship.
In 1990, Ferster was part of a talented Vernon Lakers team that won the Centennial Cup (now the RBC Cup); the host Lakers outlasted the New Westminster
Royals 6-5 in overtime in the championship game.
The 20-year-old Ferster spent a year away from hockey before playing for and graduating from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Six years
playing overseas concluded with a longing to continue his hockey career, albeit behind the bench instead of on the ice.
This season was Ferster’s fifth as head coach and general manager of the British Columbia Hockey League champion West Kelowna Warriors and he has guided
his team to its first RBC Cup – and his second.
“I remember how special it was, playing for a national championship,” said Ferster. “It meant a lot then and it means a lot now. They say the Stanley Cup
is the hardest trophy to win in sports, but getting here isn’t easy.”
Playing for the hosts in 1990, Ferster and the Lakers received an automatic entry into the tournament, whereas the Warriors won the BCHL championship and
Western Canada Cup, earning the right to compete in Lloydminster.
The way in which his teams entered the tournament isn’t all that is different, but much has changed since Ferster was a feisty forward who had 21 points in
28 games with the Lakers.
“Hockey is a science now,” said Ferster. “Players take care of themselves so much better now and preparation overall has really improved. Technology has
“Back in those days you went to training camp to get in shape basically, now we’re breaking down video and analyzing as many aspects of the game and
conditioning as possible.”
He also used to sleep a lot better.
“As a player you only have one person to worry about, yourself, but as a coach, you have a lot more on your plate,” he laughed. “It feels like I haven’t
slept in two months, but I’d take that 100 times out of 100!”
Going to the rink, although tough at times during long seasons, is a privilege to Ferster, who doesn’t take it for granted. Even a bad day at the rink is
still a day at the rink and with hockey seemingly in his blood, his seamless transition into coaching seems to have been written in the stars.
Ferster recalls working hockey camps as a Midget player and enjoying helping younger players. In Europe he’d help the coaching staff whenever possible,
before acting as player-coach for a season in Germany before retiring.
That’s when he took off his equipment and put on a suit.
“I don’t know anything else; I played and now I do this,” Ferster said. “Take away a few odd jobs here and there and this is all I’ve ever done. I still
really appreciate being able to go to the rink every day, as cliché as that sounds. I’m fortunate to be in a great spot in Kelowna and I have to travel
over that bridge [across Okanagan Lake] every day to go to work and I’m just happy I get to go to the rink.”
The Warriors are very happy to have him as coach.
West Kelowna has won 132 regular-season games over the last four seasons, with this year’s 79-point performance putting them third in the BCHL standings.
It closed the season by winning 12 of their last 13 games, led by a 242-goal offence, the league’s third-best.
On defence, the 180 goals against were sixth-best, and special teams were both top-five finishers – the power play clicked at a 24.6% success rate (third)
and penalty kill was at 83.2% (fourth).
Now all that stands between the Warriors and the perfect ending to their season are four other teams at the RBC Cup.
Ferster hasn’t spoken to the Warriors about his championship and he doesn’t think he will. That was then and this is now.
“My message is mainly about short-term competition. I was fortunate to be with [Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge] for a few years, so I know the
ins and outs of short-term competition. I stick to that, they don’t need to hear about back in my day.”
Agree to disagree.