COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – After helping found the conference and providing more than seven years of service and support for the NCHC, former Colorado College Director of Athletics Ken Ralph has been selected as the recipient of the 2019 NCHC Distinguished Service Award, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference announced Thursday. Ralph, who is now the Director of Athletics at the University of Maine, becomes the fifth person to receive the conference’s prestigious award.
Ralph played a significant and vital role in the formation of the NCHC, along with others, including previous Distinguished Service Award recipients, dating back to its humble beginnings in 2011. He served on multiple NCHC committees and held leadership positions for several years to help establish the conference, working tirelessly as an advocate on behalf of the NCHC. Without his leadership and service, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference would not have achieved all its accomplishments so far in its short six-year history, and may not exist at all.
“Like many others, Ken Ralph was instrumental in the NCHC’s formation and for much of the success attained to-date,” NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton said. “We are honored to provide Ken with the well-deserved 2019 NCHC Distinguished Service award.”
With the landscape changing and realignment set to take place in college hockey, Ralph was involved in the initial meetings in the summer of 2011 to help come up with the idea for a new conference focused on schools that made NCAA hockey a number one priority. He was also heavily involved in finding additional members before the conference was officially announced. And thanks in part to his efforts and dedication, organizing phone calls and meetings, his shared vision became a reality when the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was officially founded on July 13, 2011 at the Penrose House in Colorado Springs with Ralph front and center in attendance. Given the location, Ralph was key in coordinating the site of the announcement, as well.
"It is a humbling experience to be honored in this way,” Ralph said of his award. “I think back on the untold number of hours working on this league, dealing with the detractors, managing the pre-competition financing, preparing the legal paperwork, establishing bylaws, and all the heavy lifting we shared to make this happen. Until you have been through it, you can't imagine the workload involved in building a league from scratch. I will always be indebted to the women and men who believed in this venture and put in the effort to make the NCHC a reality."
While still performing his duties for Colorado College, Ralph’s work didn’t stop once the NCHC was officially established. He played a critical role in hiring Fenton to be the NCHC’s second commissioner, after inaugural Commissioner Jim Scherr left only months before the NCHC was set to begin play. In addition, Ralph served as the Chair of the NCHC Athletic Council during the 2015-16 season, while being a member on the Board of Directors/Athletic Council from the conference’s founding.
Ralph also sat on the NCHC’s Advisory Committee from 2013-2017, serving as Chair in 2015-16 and Past-Chair the following year. He was also involved on the NCHC’s Finance/Audit Committee and Conduct Committee, completing multi-year terms on both committees in 2017. Prior to becoming Chair of the NCHC Athletic Council, Ralph served as Treasurer and Vice Chair during the conference’s first two seasons of competition. The Salem, N.H., native also presented multiple awards in the NCHC’s early years at the conference’s annual Awards Celebration and Frozen Faceoff championship.
“Ken was a tireless force behind the formation of the NCHC from day one,” said CC Interim Director of Athletics Greg Capell, who nominated Ralph for the award and worked under Ralph during his entire tenure at Colorado College. “Every night he stayed at the office late. Every weekend he took work home. I will never forget the amount of time he spent, and the passion and leadership he displayed, to help move the conference from a concept to a reality.”
Prior to accepting the Director of Athletics position at Maine last September, Ralph was the Athletics Director at Colorado College, one of the six founding members of the NCHC, for 11 years. During his tenure with the Tigers in Colorado Springs, Ralph had many achievements, many of which included fundraising for new and upgraded facilities for CC’s athletics programs. During his final year at Colorado College, Ralph was instrumental in the partnership with the City of Colorado Springs’ City for Champions initiative, which will provide CC with its own, on-campus events center, the Edward J. Robson Arena. The $39 million arena will allow the Tiger hockey team to play its games on campus for the first time since the program started in 1938 and house several school- and community-based events.
Along with the new Robson Arena, which is expected to open for the 2021-22 season, Ralph spear-headed a $27 million renovation and expansion project in 2013 for CC’s El Pomar Sports Center, which is used by all Tiger student-athletes. Ralph was gracious enough to let the NCHC use the El Pomar Sports Center, along with CC’s Honnen Ice Arena, for the conference’s Officiating Camp its first few years.
An All-American swimmer at Alaska Anchorage and 1991 graduate, Ralph served as the tournament director for the 2008 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey West Regional at the Broadmoor World Arena, current home of CC hockey, after running two previous NCAA regionals in Albany, N.Y. in 2004 and 2006. Ralph was also an active member on the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation Board of Directors prior to his departure for Maine and previously held positions on USA Hockey committees.
Before taking over at Colorado College, Ralph was the athletics director at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). While at RPI, he was involved as the NCAA voted overwhelmingly in favor of amended legislation that permitted Division III institutions to continue granting financial aid to student-athletes who compete on their Division I teams. This legislation greatly affected Colorado College, which is a Division III school with Division I men’s hockey and women’s soccer, as it preserved those programs’ Division I status.
Ralph, who earned a master’s degree in sports management studies from California University (Pa.), was inducted into Alaska Anchorage’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005. Before his position at RPI, Ralph was an administrator at various levels in collegiate athletics and a swimming coach at several schools.
"I am thrilled to see the teams in the NCHC experiencing so much success on and off the ice,” Ralph said. “Forming the league was a risky proposition in a tradition-rich sport, but for these schools to keep their high profile in hockey it became a necessity. It’s very rewarding to see it work out."
Ralph will be presented his NCHC Distinguished Service Award in person at the NCHC’s Annual Meeting with athletics directors, faculty athletics representatives and coaches held in Naples, Fla. on April 29.
The NCHC’s Distinguished Service Award is not necessarily bestowed upon someone annually, but is presented to an individual who has served, supported and promoted the goals and ideals of the NCHC and who, through personal effort and dedication, has enhanced the ability of the Conference and/or its member institutions to provide a positive experience for the student-athletes enrolled at NCHC member institutions. Ralph was nominated by his former colleagues at Colorado College and selected by the NCHC Awards Committee.
The inaugural NCHC Distinguished Service Award was presented to Mr. Bill Hybl, the Chairman and CEO of El Pomar Foundation, in 2016, while Denver Director of Athletics Ron Grahame received the honor in 2017. Last year, Peg Bradley-Doppes, former University of Denver Vice Chancellor for Athletics, and Brian Faison, former University of North Dakota Director of Athletics, were co-honorees, both of whom were heavily involved in the founding of the NCHC with Ralph.
PREVIOUS NCHC DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD WINNERS
2016 – Bill Hybl, Chairman and CEO of El Pomar Foundation
2017 – Ron Grahame, Athletics Director at University of Denver
2018 – Peg Bradley-Doppes, former University of Denver Vice Chancellor for Athletics
2018 – Brian Faison, former University of North Dakota Director of Athletics
Ken Ralph (middle) talks to NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton before presenting the inaugural Frozen Faceoff Trophy in 2014.
Ken Ralph presents a Frozen Faceoff All-Tournament Team award to SCSU's Charlie Lindgren in 2015.
Ken Ralph announces CC's new Robson Arena last summer as part of Colorado Springs' City for Champions project.