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“We said from day one, we are going to make this work.”

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How Ryan Warsofsky brought together two AHL teams and his thoughts on this COVID-19 season.

Chicago Wolves

Nearly every question Chicago Wolves’ Head Coach Ryan Warsofsky got in post-game press conferences this season began with some form of, “It’s been a weird year...”

I was certainly guilty of that.

But after the Wolves wrapped up their Central Division-winning season, Warsofsky had much to reflect on before the Wolves and Admirals head their separate ways for next year (Answers have been edited slightly for clarity):

On overall positives from the season

“We saw two teams come together; I think that’s a real positive. We said from day one: We’re not going to have issues, we’re going to make this work...This is about the players. It’s about getting our players ready for the National Hockey League and trying to win some hockey games along the way. That’s the bottom line, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that...”

“I thought our start was really good; Guys bought in from day one. Then we lost some bodies, whether that was to Nashville, Caroline, and injuries...we probably hit a little speed bump with COVID...then we were kind of chugging along towards the end with some games that were really good and some games that were not so good. So it was definitely a learning experience for the players and our staff...”

On merging the identity of two teams

“We talked about it day one...the elephant in the room. This is what it is, and this is what we’re doing...If you don’t like it, the door’s right there. That’s not being a hardass, it’s just how we’re doing things. We’re here to get better, and we’re here to win hockey games. At the end of the day, this is a business where it’s black and white, you either win or you lose. That’s just how we’re judged as players and as coaches...”

On working with players rotating out of the lineup

“For Carolina, each player has an individual plan on what we want to work on on the ice and off the ice. So we sat down before the year with the Carolina management and went through each player. There were times when we would take out a player for a week because we wanted to get him some off-ice workouts and show him what it means to be a professional hockey player. If you want to win a Stanley Cup and make money and play in the league, you have to be stronger. So a lot of the time, we were taking out players for that particular reason, whether it was to get a little bit heavier lifting weights or to drop some weight...”

“Then there were some players we wanted to play as much as we possibly can: Ryan Suzuki, Dominik Bokk, Jamieson Rees...He needed to play important times of the game where he was down a goal and was forced to play D-Zone coverage because that’s where he’s struggling right now. You learn a lot from failure, and this is kind of a perfect season to do it in a way...”

“Sometimes players need to realize, ‘It’s 3-2 with a minute left and I don’t get that puck out, look what happens: You get scored on, and you have to grind one out in overtime.’ So, a lot of it was just teaching certain situations on the ice.”

On CHL players adjusting to the pro game

“It was a challenge. They’re young, they probably didn’t know exactly what they were getting themselves into...It’s obviously a more intense league, it’s more detailed. At the same time, this is probably the best year of their lives for development purposes and to learn what it means to be a pro hockey player, how you manage your day-to-day life outside of the arena, and how you get prepared for practice and games.”

“We were getting players—Phil Tomasino, Ryan Suzuki, Jamieson Rees—they’re their top players on their team. And we kind of have to redevelop the player in a way and get their bad habits out of them because they get away with a lot of things in juniors and college. I think that was probably the biggest challenge.”

“There were a lot of challenges, but I think all the players got better. They’re not going to really feel it until come next fall when it’s a real season and when it’s gonna be fast, intense, and emotional.”

On the NHL-CHL Agreement

“I hope that rule changes because I think it’s so beneficial for these kids to come in. I think it’s super important to get the junior habits out of them and bring them in. And that’s not a shot at the coaches, whether that’s Major Junior or college, that’s just the nature of the beast and what they’re dealing with.”

“It’s frustrating at times when you try to teach and show them what we’re looking for and they’re gliding through certain situations. So it’s very challenging, but I think down the road is where we’ll see the most results.”

“Tomasino, he obviously had a great year, but he could still get better away from the puck. Could you imagine that? Now we’re talking about a super elite player in the National Hockey League.”

“I hope that rule changes...maybe one or two guys or whatever it might be...It would hurt the Major Junior teams, but it would help the players so much to develop a little bit quicker.”

On the Wolves’ penalty kill strategy

“Our PK took a little bit of a hit this year because we had a lot of different personnel at times...Suzuki, Bokk, Richard, etc. I think it’s great for every player to learn it and get some experience on the PK.”

“I think Carolina has Aho and Teravainen on it. It gives their star players more ice, and you obviously have a chance to score a shorthanded goal with more skill on the ice. Like you said, Forsberg is on it in Nashville.”

“I thought Anthony Richard—I don’t think he killed a lot last year in Milwaukee—was really good, got better on the PK, and gave us some speed on it. He’s got a good active stick, and he’s a pretty smart player in his own end. We wanted to tinker with it a bit, and I think it’s an important lesson for the young players to learn.”

On Chicago’s veteran blue line

“It’s hard to play defense professionally; It doesn’t matter what level you’re at. So for not having any young players, relatively, is really important because you know what you’re getting with Carrier, Davies, or Lajoie. It was calm. They knew what they were doing when they got pucks, and they knew what they were doing when they didn’t have the puck.”

“Our D-Corps really bought in. Our goaltending was really good early in the season, and that helped a lot, too. So yeah, it was definitely really important that we had that influx of players that had a lot of experience.”

On adding another coaching staff to the bench

“It was definitely a challenging season not thinking we were playing and then we’re playing then no playoffs all with a whole new group from two different teams. I learned a lot from the Milwaukee staff...”

“I got to see what Karl’s all about this year and learn from him a ton. He’s a guy that’s got a lot of experience at all different levels.”

“It’s hard because since there were no playoffs, the motivation of playing after you clinch the division...How do we get these guys up for a Saturday night at home, in a practice rink, with no fans, and with nothing really on the line? But I thought we did a pretty good job to have two teams come together like we did.”