For more than two decades the South Carolina Stingrays have been a model of stability in the ECHL.
While franchises around the league open and close their doors with regularity and seem to change ownership groups and coaches with each passing season, the Stingrays’ strength has been their consistency.
But in the last six months, much has changed for the minor-league hockey team. Todd Halloran replaced the Zucker family as the primary owner of one of the league’s flagship franchises, and now the Stingrays will begin searching for a new coach after Ryan Warsofsky accepted a position to be an assistant coach with the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers on Monday.
Warsofsky, who served as an assistant coach with the Stingrays for three seasons from 2013-16, led the Stingrays to two Kelly Cup playoff appearances during his time behind the bench.
“It was a very difficult decision to make and its been weighing heavily on my mind for a while,” Warsofsky said Monday. “The Stingrays and the city of Charleston have meant so much to me and my family. This is where it all started for me and I can’t thank the organization, team president Rob Concannon, the Zucker family, for giving me the opportunity to be a coach in the ECHL. At the end of the day, this was an opportunity with Charlotte I couldn’t pass up.”
Warsofsky compiled a 88-44-10-2 record in two seasons as head coach of the Stingrays. Warsofsky guided the club to 40 wins in his first year behind the bench and led the Stingrays to the Kelly Cup finals in his rookie campaign.
He followed that by leading the Stingrays to their best regular season in team history this past year with a mark of 48-16-7-1 and 104 points. It was the highest number of wins and points secured in the Stingrays' 25-year history. The Stingrays dominated the ECHL’s South Division during Warsofsky’s tenure, going 70-29-8-2 in 109 regular-season games.
“I would like to thank Ryan for his passion and commitment to our organization over the last five years,” Concannon said. “Over that time, I’ve enjoyed watching him grow into one of the brightest young coaches in hockey. This is a tremendous and deserving opportunity.”
The opportunity to coach in Charlotte wasn’t the only option Warsofsky had in the AHL this offseason. He interviewed with former Stingrays boss Spencer Carbery for an assistant coaching position with the Hershey Bears. Carbery, who was named Hershey’s head coach last month, filled one spot on his coaching staff last week when he hired former Stingrays defenseman Patrick Wellar. Carbery still has one spot left to fill on his staff.
“Spencer and I had numerous discussions over the past few weeks,” Warsofsky said. “When I told them I was going to Charlotte there were no hard feelings. My relationship with Spencer is as strong as ever.”
Warsofsky said he will be coaching the defense for Checkers head coach Mike Vellucci. That was his specialty as an assistant under Carbery for three years with the Stingrays. South Carolina had its best defensive team in the history of the ECHL last season, breaking records for least goals allowed (153), lowest team goals-against average (2.13) and fewest power play goals allowed (27). The Stingrays had the top-ranked penalty kill in the ECHL last season at 90.5 percent.
“Coaching the defense is a position I’m very familiar with,” Warsofsky said. “Mike and I had some great discussions about the team and his philosophy. We had great chemistry together. Carolina has a tradition of winning. They’ve won a Stanley Cup and they’ve got some great, young prospects. I can’t wait to get up there and start working.”
South Carolina has a history of hiring coaches from within the organization. Steve Bergin has been Warsofsky’s assistant coach for the past two seasons. Warsofsky said the former Pensacola Ice Flyers defenseman is ready to take over the franchise.
“Steve works extremely hard he knows the league and he’s ready for this opportunity,” Warsofsky said.
Bergin said he’s interested in becoming the Stingrays' eighth head coach in club history.
“Obviously, I’d like an opportunity to interview for the job, but that’s not my decision to make,” Bergin said. “I’m really happy for Ryan. No one works harder than Ryan and he deserves this chance.”
The search for a new coach will begin immediately.