Ryan Warsofsky named NHL’s first Jewish head coach in over 30 years with San Jose Sharks

(JTA) – For the first time in more than three decades, an NHL team will have a Jewish coach.

On Thursday, Ryan Warsofsky was named head coach of the San Jose Sharks after previously serving as an assistant coach with the team. At 36, he is also the youngest coach in the 32-team league and faces a key decision early in his tenure: The Sharks, who had the worst record in the NHL last season, have the top pick in next week’s NHL draft.

“This is an exciting time for myself, my family and the Sharks organization to move forward,” Warsofsky said in an emotional introductory press conference Monday afternoon.

Warsofsky’s promotion adds onto the growing Jewish presence in the league, whose postseason is crescendoing to a close this week as the Edmonton Oilers face the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Finals. There were at least 15 Jewish players on the ice this season – from the Oilers’ winger Zach Hyman to brothers Jack, Luke and Quinn Hughes to the Sharks’ own center, Luke Kunin.

Warsofsky is a native of Marshfield, Mass. His brother David, who played parts of five seasons in the NHL, told the Canadian Jewish News’ “Menschwarmers” podcast that their father is Jewish and that growing up, his family celebrated Hanukkah with their grandparents.

NHL history and Jewish coaching legacy

Apr 10, 2023; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; San Jose Sharks coach David Quinn talks with with assistant coach Ryan Warsofsky during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Canada Life Centre. (credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Warsofsky played one professional season in 2011-2012, split between a number of lower-level leagues in the US and the Netherlands. He began his coaching career the following year as an assistant at his alma mater, Division III Curry College in Milton, Mass. From there, he spent five seasons, including two as a head coach, with minor league teams before moving up to the American Hockey League, where he led two different teams over four seasons and won two championships.

He joined the Sharks as an assistant coach in 2022. Last year, he served as an assistant coach for Team USA in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, where the US team finished fourth.

The last time the league saw a Jewish coach was during the 1992-1993 season, when NHL veteran Bob Plager served as head coach of the St. Louis Blues for all of 11 games, according to the Jewish Baseball Museum (which tracks notable Jewish moments in other sports as well.)

Before Plager, the most notable Jewish NHL coach was Cecil Hart, who led the Montreal Canadiens for nine seasons in the 1920s and 1930s and won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1930 and 1931. The NHL’s Hart Memorial Trophy, given annually to the league’s most valuable player, was donated by Hart’s father David. Hart is also a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

But soon, Warsofsky may be joined by another Jewish head coach. To get the Sharks job, he beat out Jeff Halpern, an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning since 2018 who has been linked to multiple head coaching vacancies in recent years, including the Sharks’. Halpern played 14 seasons in the NHL and is a member of the Greater Washington Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.