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Colin Ralph is headed back to the desert

By Peter Odney , 06/27/24, 12:30PM CDT

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The Maple Grove native won a national championship with the Shattuck-St. Mary's Prep team this spring, and will be on hand in Las Vegas as the highest-rated Minnesotan according to NHL Central Scouting.

The Shattuck-St. Mary's Boys Prep hockey team played 57 games during the 2023-2024 season. 

Those games spanned 206 days between September 13 and April 7. Add in practices, workouts, travel, and film sessions, and the Sabres had little time to do anything other than sleep, eat, and breathe hockey. That's the non-financial cost of playing for one of the world's most storied hockey factories. 

Of those 57 games, two stand out in the mind of defenseman Colin Ralph—just two in a 57-game haystack. 

"We dropped one in the Elite League on a Sunday morning, and then we lost our second game out in Toronto to St. Andrew's. It was probably a Saturday morning," Ralph said. 

Judging by the Sabres' schedule, the games were played at noon in their respective time zones, but Ralph still remembers nearly all of the details. 

"I think especially those two because I feel like we beat ourselves in those games," Ralph said. "That's the only reason we lost."

Ralph hasn't done much losing over the last two seasons with the Sabres. He's a back-to-back national champion, cleaning up this spring in Las Vegas with six points in six games as SSM topped the Yale Jr. Bulldogs in the national title game. For the 2023-2024 campaign, Ralph totaled eight goals and 66 points, up from 35 points during the 2022-2023 season. 

"I knew going in we had a really good team, and we were going to have a great shot to go to the finals and win again," Ralph said. "In the elimination games, I don't know why we had to make the game so interesting. We started slow, a few of the games, and got down and behind, but managed to pull the games out in the end."


Ralph nearly doubled his point total from season one to season two at Shattuck-St. Mary's, going from 35 to 66 points. Photo courtesy of Colin Ralph.

Now, in late June, Ralph will once again make the trek to the desert, where he is a virtual lock to be selected in the early rounds of this year's NHL Draft as the No. 32 ranked North American skater, according to NHL Central Scouting. He is the highest-rated Minnesota native, according to NHLCS. 

Standing at Combine-measured 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds and described as a physical, shutdown defender by several draft-centric media outlets, Ralph embodies the profile that NHL franchises have turned to in recent years, a far cry from just six years ago when the league selected 12 defensemen who stood shorter than six feet in the first two rounds. 

While the likes of Quinn Hughes (5-foot-10) and Cale Makar (5-foot-11) still dominate highlight reels, Ralph says that he's more than comfortable in his own towering skin, thanks in part to having gone from the Osseo-Maple Grove youth program to the Omaha Hockey Club, CarShield AAA's 16U team, and then Shattuck-St. Mary's. 

"From a hockey standpoint, the thing that I learned is just don't try and be somebody you're not," Ralph said. "Bring what you bring to the team, and everybody brings something different. Nobody can do what I do, and I can't necessarily do what anybody else does, so it's best to just be who you are."

With Winnipeg's Brendan Dillon and New York Rangers defenseman K'Andre Miller as his models for playing style, Ralph could be a welcome sight for NHL teams that plan on a trip to the postseason each year. 

The last two Stanley Cup winners, Florida and Vegas, were buoyed by good-sized defensive groups. Vegas had Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Theodore, and Brayden McNabb. Florida relied on Niko Mikkola, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Aaron Ekblad. And who can forget back-to-back champs Tampa Bay, which had 6-foot-6 behemoth Victor Hedman at the top of the defensive lineup in 2020 and 2021?

"I think there's kind of been a pattern with teams the last couple of years that have won the cup, where they've had defensemen, pretty much all big defensemen, aside from Colorado two years ago," Ralph said. "Obviously (Colorado) had Makar, but like I said, he's a special player, so he might be an outlier. But I think, for the most part, these teams that have been winning the cups have had big, strong (defensemen)." 


Before moving on to hockey power Shattuck-St. Mary's, Ralph plied his trade with St. Louis-based CarShield AAA for a season. Photo courtesy of Colin Ralph.

Ralph's NHL journey will likely begin in the next two days, but for at least this season, he'll play for St. Cloud State before doing what he's done for his entire career to this point - grow, improve, and evolve - before taking aim at the league he's aspired to since childhood. 

Like all draft prospects, Ralph says he wouldn't be on this trajectory without the help of numerous people, most significantly from his parents, Josh and Natalie, and the coaching and development staff at Shattuck-St. Mary's. 

"Like everybody else, it's kind of been a dream all my life," Ralph said. "I was lucky. My parents always sacrificed things and put me in the position to try and chase that dream. I got to Shattuck my junior year, and they put that idea in my mind, and I think that just helped me grow as a person and a player. Just putting that idea in my mind helped me develop because I knew there were people that believed in me." 

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