Ryan Warsofsky entered a challenging position at the start of the 2016-17 season. After serving as the South Carolina Stingrays’ assistant coach for the previous three seasons, he was tabbed to take over the head coaching reigns after Spencer Carbery accepted the head coaching position with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. At the time of his promotion he was just 28-years-old, making him the youngest active coach in the ECHL, and the fifth-youngest all-time in league history.
Warsofsky wasn’t just taking over any team. South Carolina had advanced to the postseason 27 times in 28 seasons at the time, and had reached the Kelly Cup Finals in 2015 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016.
The Stingrays got off to an uncharacteristically slow start in Warsofsky’s first season as head coach. At Christmas, they were just two games over .500 at 13-11-2, and far from a sure thing for the playoffs.
“We got off to a slow start last season, so I learned a lot about myself and about our players,” Warsofsky said.
However, once the team returned from the break, something clicked, as the Stingrays promptly went on a 9-2-0 run over their next 11 games, and went on to finish the season in second place of the South Division with a 40-28-3 record. In the playoffs, South Carolina defeated Greenville and Florida, becoming just the second team in ECHL history to reach the Conference Finals for three consecutive seasons. After falling behind Manchester 2 games to 0, the Stingrays again showed their character, rallying for a 4 games to 3 series win and their second berth in the Kelly Cup Finals in three seasons. Even though South Carolina fell short of the ultimate prize, there was still plenty to be gained from last season’s success.
“We went on a wild ride there and it was exciting,” Warsofsky said. “I think we all got some experience from it that we can build off in the future.”
The pressure to win that South Carolina has created could be difficult for most young coaches to deal with. But it is something that the easy-going Warsofsky thrives off of.
“There’s pressure to win in South Carolina and we like that,” he said. “We have that winning culture with our core group of players that desperately want to win every night just like our staff and just like myself. We want to win every single night, no matter whether it’s a Tuesday morning game, Sunday afternoon of a three-in-three, we want to win every single game. That’s just the mentality with our group and that was built probably way back when with Rick Vaive and all the successful teams they had in the 90s into the 2000s.”
Stingrays’ President Rob Concannon was a player on the team during those early days, and has seen Warsofsky grow immensely over the last few seasons.
“When he first came to us an assistant coach he was a little green and to see the progress he’s made, taking us to the Kelly Cup Finals last year in his first season and seeing it continue into the 2017-18 season again has been a pleasure,” Concannon said. “He comes to work every day, he’s structured, he works tremendously hard, and I think the players respect him and they love playing for him and it shows on the ice.”
A lot of that structure comes from growing up in a hockey family. The third of four hockey-playing sons of Mark and Dawn, hockey has been a family affair since a young age. Growing up, Warsofsky would go head-to-head with his younger brother David, who has NHL experience with Boston, Pittsburgh and New Jersey, in addition to nearly 350 career games in the American Hockey League.
“David and I are extremely close,” he said. “We talk almost daily and just catch up with each other. We battled it out in street hockey and I’d always be the goalie and he’d always be the forward. He was a real-skilled player growing up and you always knew he was going to do something special and would get a chance after he got drafted. We had our fights and picked our battles but I’m a big supporter of him as he is of me and we’ve had a great relationship as we’ve gotten into pro hockey.”
Warsofsky has South Carolina in line to continue its success this season. The Stingrays are in second place of the South Division, eight points behind Florida, and last week, he served as one of the coaches at the 2018 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic in Indianapolis. As is usually the case for big moments in Warsofsky’s life, his parents, Mark and Dawn, were there to share in the experience.
“My parents, since I stepped on the ice, have always been there for me. They rarely miss a game, they brought me to every practice, and that’s truly special, and my brother would say the same thing. There’s times where they traveled from Charleston to Denver or Pittsburgh to see my brother and it’s obviously a very cool moment to be here with them and share this experience,” Warsofsky said of the All-Star festivities.
“Dawn and I enjoy every moment of it,” Mark Warsofsky said. “We try to follow them and pay as much attention as we can. It’s important for us to keep that relationship going. We are really enjoying it and we are proud to see him get to this level so quick. I know he’s worked really hard to get to the point that he’s at and we couldn’t be happier as parents to see the success he has enjoyed.”
If the past year and a half is any indication, this is only the start of Warsofsky’s coaching success. One prediction that’s for sure – his family will be there every step of the way to support him.