Victoria native Spencer Carbery named ECHL’s top coach

Like father, like son, the Carbery way.

Spencer Carbery of Victoria, named this week winner of the John Brophy Award as ECHL coach of the year for 2013-14, has joined his father as a noted mentor. Dad Bryan Carbery is the retired head coach of the University of Victoria golf team and guided the Vikes to four RCGA Canadian university titles in his 13 years at the helm.

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“I used to listen to the way my dad talked to the athletes. I learned a lot from him about how to handle coaching at the one-on-one level,” said Spencer Carbery, from Charleston, S.C., where his South Carolina Stingrays are preparing for their first-round Kelly Cup playoff series opener Friday against the Wheeling Nailers.

Carbery was only 29 when he became the youngest head coach in pro hockey as he took over the ECHL’s Stingrays. Two years later, the Claremont Secondary grad and Peninsula Panthers Junior B and Cowichan Valley Capitals BCHL product is coach of the year after leading South Carolina to a 43-23-6 record, tied for second-best in the ECHL. That’s despite losing numerous players to AHL call-ups.

“We had 15 free agents called up to the AHL this season. That’s not counting Boston guys [the Stingrays are affiliated with the Boston Bruins of the NHL and Providence Bruins of the AHL].”

That makes winning a tricky equation in the ECHL.

“We’ve embraced it,” said Carbery, who is 118-77-21 in his three seasons with South Carolina.

“We want to win. But we want our players to move on to the AHL, and one day, the NHL. That’s the way you structure your team game in the ECHL. You tell the players if we win, you will have individual success and get to the next level and get your opportunity.”

Carbery is a Racquet Club of Victoria minor hockey product who won the Kelly Cup as a player with Stingrays in 2009. As a junior member at Uplands, he became Greater Victoria age-group golf champion at 14. So nothing makes him happier than to have a Victoria player play for the Stingrays or a team in their division — as Justin Courtnall, Zach Currie and Lee Baldwin have done.

From coaching short benches because of AHL call-ups, to airport pickups and finding apartments for the players, you do it all coaching in the ECHL.

“There’s no question it’s a great level to get your feet wet in coaching because you learn about every end of hockey, on ice and off,” said Carbery.

It’s a well-trod path. St. John’s IceCaps AHL head coach Keith McCambridge from the Alaska Aces and Mark Morrison from the Victoria Salmon Kings are old ECHL hands. So are former St. Louis Blues head coach Davis Payne, currently assistant coach of the L.A. Kings, and former Dallas Stars head coach and current Canucks assistant Glen Gulutzan. Derek Laxdal ran the Idaho Steelheads for five seasons before finding similar success in the WHL with the Edmonton Oil Kings. There were 29 coaches with ECHL experience on NHL benches this season, including head coaches Bruce Boudreau of the Ducks, Peter Horachek of the Panthers and Jack Capuano of the Islanders.

“I want to coach one day in the NHL and I want to stay there,” said Carbery.

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