• |
Header Banner

Spencer Carbery ’06 addresses the media in his introduction as the Washington Capitals 20th head coach. (Photo courtesy of Washington Capitals.)

Green Knights Standout Tapped to Lead NHL’s Capitals

The long, winding journey of a hockey coach is not for the faint of heart. But after coaching posts in Charleston, S.C., Hershey, Pa., and Toronto with the Maple Leafs, Spencer Carbery ’06 has reached rarified air in his profession: As of June 2023, Carbery is one of 32 head coaches in the National Hockey League (NHL). He was named head coach of the Washington Capitals in May.

Canada to Alaska to De Pere
Carbery was playing junior hockey in Pentiction, British Columbia, when he met SNC hockey coach Tim Coghlin. “I still remember it, with my dad sitting at a table post-game and him describing the program and describing the school and describing what it would be like to go there for someone from Western Canada that had no idea about De Pere, Wisconsin,” Carbery says.

He would begin his collegiate career at Division I Alaska Anchorage. But when he decided to transfer, St. Norbert was a no-brainer, he says. That decision paid dividends for both parties. Carbery was an All-Conference and All-American player in his three years with the Green Knights. The team, too, ascended to new heights – back-to-back national championship appearances – that would lead to five Division III championships from 2008 to 2018.

Carbery says: “I’ll never forget the heartbreak of losing in overtime in the national championship game to Middlebury, 1-nothing. We were right there; we were right there. But I’m obviously very, very proud and happy for all the national championships we’ve won now. I look back at our class and the classes before that were setting the table and knocking at the door to set up the success. We didn’t get it done, and that is always going to be something that I wish we were able to do.”

Whatever it takes to play
After St. Norbert, Carbery pursued a professional hockey career. He signed with the Chicago team of the United Hockey League, but got cut shortly after. He returned to the Green Bay area and regrouped, with the support of his then-girlfriend, now wife, Casey (DeGreef) Carbery ’06.

“That part and where it ties into St. Norbert is I just wanted an opportunity, and I had to figure out a way to bring value to a team. So whether it’s a scorer, whether you have to be checker, whether you have to be the PK [penalty kill] guy, whether you have to bring energy and be a good teammate, that’s where I figured out really quickly in pro hockey – which my St. Norbert experience really prepared me for – is you have to bring value to this team in whatever facet it is, and figure it out quickly or else you’re out of the league,” says Carbery.

He carved out a role as a competitive, gritty player, addicted to the grind through 2010 for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL (an affiliate team of the Washington Capitals), winning a title in 2009. In the offseason he again needed to re-evaluate his role in hockey.

The call to coaching
An invitation from his coach on the Stingrays to take an off-ice role with the team set in motion a 13-year adventure through several hockey leagues, and now as the man in charge in Washington, D.C.

Carbery’s success is no surprise to Coghlin. “He has done things right at every level along the way,” Coghlin says. “People love to be around Carbs; he’s a bit of a magnet. Two times named ECHL coach of the year and one-time AHL coach of the year before joining the Toronto Maple Leafs for the past two years ... It was only a matter of time before he got an opportunity at the National Hockey League level to be a head coach. We are extremely proud of him as an individual and as a family man.”

Family first
Carbery and his wife, Casey, first met while dining on campus: a familiar tale for many SNC alumni. “It’s crazy and I know it’s cliché, but right from that moment I had this pit feeling in my stomach, like those nervous butterflies of this person was going to be special in my life. And from that night forward, it was.”

She wasn’t always a hockey fan, though. “I want to say our SNC games at the Cornerstone Community Center were the first games that she ever went to,” Spencer says. “But obviously, now the game has grown on her. She’s picked up on it all and she’s fully invested.”

Carbery says he owes much of his success to Casey. “The amount of hours and things I’ve missed, sleeping at the rink – the only way that that’s doable is through her and who she is as a person,” he says. “She’s a rockstar, and she’s the real reason that we’ve had success as a family.”

Casey says: “We came to a crossroads because Spencer was having so much success: Do we just stay in South Carolina and this is maybe where it ends? Or do we pursue this dream of one day Spencer becoming an NHL coach?”

They took the plunge; Casey resigned from her position in banking to be a more constant presence in the lives of their two children: Hudson, 11, and Vivienne, 9. 

“There are definitely challenges, but also immense rewards,” Casey says. “Our kids have friends all over the country. They’re transient, get-up-and-go kids.”

A passion inflamed at SNC
The love of the game and the love of the grind motivate Carbery to push for success every day. He says that’s something he learned from Coach Coghlin and a few other mentors: “Coach instilled in me that it’s not about you or what you can do individually, it’s about the team and the program and winning as a group. That’s what team sports is all about. To be able to learn that from coach, having seen it and going through so many different scenarios, I took that with me as a player and a coach.”

“I tell anybody that will listen: The hockey experience, school, everything that encompasses SNC hockey, and being a part of that program as a student-athlete is such an incredible experience in all facets. Tim Coghlin runs the program just like a Division I program, to be honest with you. ... it’s just a very, very well-run, first-class program.”

He’s allowed himself to spend a little time reflecting on the journey, but only a little: “I’m certainly thankful and excited and it’s really, really humbling to be one of the 32 head coaches in the National Hockey League. It’s been an amazing, amazing journey. And now I turn my brain to, ‘I have to make the best of it and find a way to focus on making the Washington Capitals the best possible hockey team that we can be.’ ”

July 13, 2023