From Rink to NHL Helm: The Inspiring Journey of Spencer Carbery as a Head Coach

How a Stint in the Lowcountry Prepared Spencer Carbery to be the Washington Capitals’ Coach

Published on October 12, 2023 at 9:01 a.m. EDT

Spencer CarberySpencer Carbery, 41, is a first-year NHL coach. His Washington Capitals open their season Friday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

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Five days before Christmas in 2008, Spencer Carbery believed that his hockey career had reached its end. The Fresno Falcons, Carbery’s team in the ECHL, suddenly folded with no warning. Carbery and his teammates were in the locker room when their coach, Matt Thomas, delivered the shocking news. Despite the heartbreaking circumstances, the Falcons managed to win their final game that night. Carbery then went home to discuss the next steps with his fiancee, Casey.

At 27 years old, Carbery had been playing in the lower ranks of professional hockey for over two years, and Fresno’s collapse seemed like a sign for him to move on. The couple made the decision to relocate to South Carolina, where Carbery’s mother lived. Carbery intended to pursue a career in finance, leveraging his business administration degree from St. Norbert College (Wis.).

Although several teams in the ECHL expressed interest in Carbery, he politely declined all offers and remained steadfast in his decision to move forward. However, one individual, Jared Bednar, who was the coach of the Washington Capitals’ ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays, saw something special in Carbery and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Bednar proposed that Carbery give the Stingrays a chance for just a couple of weeks, considering that Carbery was already heading in that direction. With only 48 hours to meet up with the team 2,600 miles away, Carbery and Casey embarked on a road trip in Casey’s Chrysler Sebring.

Carbery recalled, “We arrived on a Tuesday night. I hit the ice with Bedsy and his son Kruz, just to get a skate in since I hadn’t been on the ice in a week. He said, ‘You’ll play tomorrow.’ And the rest was history.”

Carbery quickly established himself as a vital figure in the Stingrays’ lineup. His leadership qualities were evident from the start, and he became known as a player who would always stand up for his teammates. Just six months after Carbery’s sudden arrival in South Carolina, the Stingrays were crowned champions of the ECHL, lifting the Kelly Cup.

Carbery’s ascent continued as he transitioned into the role of assistant coach for the Stingrays a year later. Within another year, he became the head coach. After a few more coaching stops along the way, Carbery, now 41, was ultimately named the coach of the Washington Capitals.

In his role with the Capitals, Carbery faces the challenge of guiding an aging roster towards the Stanley Cup playoffs while nurturing the young talent that will form the core of the team in the future. It’s a significant responsibility for a first-year coach, but the Capitals have full confidence in Carbery’s abilities.

“There’s a high level of trust and comfort for both parties,” said Washington General Manager Brian MacLellan during Carbery’s introduction earlier this year. “We feel very fortunate that we’ve secured one of the best young coaches in the game.”

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Carbery’s Journey to Coaching

Prior to his coaching career, Carbery had never envisioned himself as a coach. After his playing days came to an end, he had planned to pursue a career in finance and leave hockey behind.

Jared Bednar, who had coached Carbery to victory in the 2009 Kelly Cup, had taken on an assistant coaching position in the AHL. Cail MacLean, Bednar’s former assistant and currently an assistant coach for the Calgary Flames, was promoted to head coach and would go on to coach Carbery in his final season as a player.

Carbery had hoped to continue playing for at least one more season. However, MacLean had a different plan in mind for the veteran forward. When Carbery expressed his desire to play another year, MacLean proposed an alternative — becoming the assistant coach.

Reflecting on the situation, Carbery said, “I told him that I really wanted to play another year. But he responded, ‘I’m not asking you to play.'”

MacLean wanted to ensure Carbery didn’t miss out on the coaching opportunity that could pass him by if he held out for another playing season. It was a decision that would prove transformational for Carbery.

While the part-time coaching job didn’t offer the same financial rewards as a career in finance, Carbery was drawn to the profession. From his first year as an assistant coach, he fell in love with the role and responsibilities, embracing the grind and relishing in individual player development.

Carbery’s passion and dedication were recognized, leading to his appointment as the Stingrays’ head coach at the young age of 29. This role encompassed not only coaching but also overseeing hockey operations and acting as the general manager. Carbery was responsible for every aspect of the organization, from player acquisitions to off-season apartment cleanouts.

Rob Concannon, the president of the Stingrays, emphasized the importance of providing opportunities to those who work hard and deliver results. With Carbery, it was an easy decision to promote him to head coach, given his excellence in every aspect of the organization.

Under Carbery’s guidance, the Stingrays consistently made it to the playoffs and experienced continuous growth in terms of wins each season. After the 2013-14 season, Carbery was named the ECHL coach of the year. The following season, South Carolina achieved a remarkable 23-game winning streak, which remains an ECHL record.

Carbery’s meticulous attention to detail, passion, fairness, directness, and honesty were evident in his coaching style. Ryan Warsofsky, an assistant coach he hired in 2013, recalled being astounded by the depth of the interview process for the ECHL assistant coaching position. Carbery’s commitment to going above and beyond was undeniably inspiring, even arriving at the rink as early as 4 a.m. to eat his second breakfast while Warsofsky attempted to make a positive impression.

Carbery himself is conscious of his work habits and the potential pressure they may place on his staff. He understands the importance of rest and would gladly trade a little extra sleep for more leisure time. However, his relentless drive to improve and perfect his craft fuels his insatiable work ethic.


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