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The Jewish Sport Report: The NHL gets its first Jewish head coach in 32 years

Ryan Warsofsky’s promotion by the San Jose Sharks adds onto the growing Jewish presence in the league

(JTA) — Hello and happy summer! It’s a good weekend for sports fans, as we’ve got the Stanley Cup Finals, the College Baseball World Series and the Copa América.

Luckily for us, there are Jewish players to watch in all three!

Ryan Warsofsky makes history in San Jose

When the 2024-2025 NHL season opens this fall, the San Jose Sharks will step onto the ice with a new head coach, Ryan Warsofsky, who spent the past two seasons as the team’s assistant coach. Warsofsky, 36, is now the youngest active coach in the league.

He’s also the first Jewish head coach in the NHL since 1992.

“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.

The NHL’s most recent Jewish head coach was Bob Plager, a former player who led the St. Louis Blues for all of 11 games at the beginning of the 1992-1993 season. Before him, the most notable Jewish coach was Cecil Hart, a Montreal Canadiens coach in the 1920s and 30s. The NHL’s Hart Memorial Trophy, given annually to the league’s most valuable player, was donated by Hart’s father David.

Warsofsky’s promotion adds onto the growing Jewish presence in the league. There were at least 15 Jewish players on the ice this season — from Edmonton Oilers’ winger Zach Hyman to brothers Jack, Luke and Quinn Hughes to the Sharks’ own center, Luke Kunin.

Warsofsky’s 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.

Click here for more on the NHL’s newest head coach.

Halftime report

MAY(S) HIS MEMORY BE A BLESSING. Baseball mourned the loss of all-time great Willie Mays this week. Mays, arguably the best ever to play the game, was beloved not only for his talent on the field but for his impact off of it. Among those close to him: a Jewish family in San Francisco who Mays once called “the best friends I’ve ever had in my life.” The Forward has more.

CONTROVERSY SPROUTS IN BRUSSELS. A UEFA Nations League match scheduled for Sept. 6 between Israel and Belgium is in flux after the city of Brussels said it would not host the game due to security concerns caused by the “dramatic situation in Gaza.” The city has seen consistent pro-Palestinian protests since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

HOME(R) AWAY FROM HOME. After a delay caused by visa issues, Israeli baseball player Assaf Lowengart made a smashing debut this week for the Frontier League’s New York Boulders, hitting a double on Tuesday followed by a 3-run homer yesterday. Lowengart, the first Israeli-born position player to sign a professional baseball contract in the U.S., told me he is “thrilled to finally join the team and looking forward to contributing to the amazing start to the season they’ve had so far!” The Boulders are a league-best 24-11 this season.

JUST KEEP SWIMMING, TO PARIS. Swimmer Claire Weinstein, 17, clinched her spot on the U.S. team for this summer’s Paris Olympics. The New York native competed in the finals of the 200 meter freestyle on Monday, finishing second, one second behind four-time Olympian Katie Ledecky.

TRANSACTION LOG. A number of Jewish players have made progress on their injury recoveries. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dean Kremer will make a Triple-A rehab start on Saturday for the Norfolk Tides. Scott Effross, the New York Yankees reliever who hasn’t pitched in a game since 2022, has begun a minor league rehab assignment. And Colorado Rockies reliever Jake Bird was activated from the injured list on Monday after missing two months with elbow inflammation. One non-injury-related update: Team Israel alum Rob Kaminsky, who had been pitching in the Atlantic League, signed a minor league contract with the Seattle Mariners this week and joined the team’s Triple-A club.

GET YOUR KOSHER PHILL. Philadelphia Phillies fans can now get their kosher food fix at Citizens Bank Park, which unveiled a new kosher stand this month. Kosher Grill offers hot pastrami on rye, Chicago style hot dogs, potato knishes and other Jewish delicacies.

WATCH THIS… The filmmakers behind the Team Israel documentary “Israel Swings for Gold,” which follows the team’s journey at the Tokyo Olympics, will be at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan on Tuesday night for a screening and Q&A. The panel, moderated by MLB.com reporter and friend of the Sport Report Jonathan Mayo, will also feature Israel Baseball Americas CEO Nate Fish and Team Israel alum Shlomo Lipetz. Register here.

…AND THIS! MLB’s official historian John Thorn, the son of Holocaust survivors who was born in a displaced persons camp, is joining a virtual event Monday at 6 p.m. ET with the Pittsburgh Hardball Academy, a nonprofit youth baseball organization, where he will talk about baseball in the Black, Jewish and urban communities as well as his own life story. More info here.

Jews in sports to watch this weekend (all times ET)

🏒 IN HOCKEY…

The NHL Stanley Cup Finals continue tonight at 8 p.m. with Game 6, as Zach Hyman and the Edmonton Oilers look to once more stave off elimination against the Florida Panthers, who lead the series 3-2. Game 7 would be Monday at 8 p.m. Hyman was quiet to open the series as Florida took a 3-0 lead, but the star winger has had a goal and two assists in the past two games. He leads the league with 15 postseason goals.

⚾️ IN THE COLLEGE BASEBALL WORLD SERIES

The 2024 NCAA Division I College World Series takes place this weekend in Omaha between Texas A&M and Tennessee. The Aggies feature Jewish pitcher Ryan Prager, catcher Max Kaufer and pitching coach Max Weiner. Prager struck out four across 6.2 scoreless innings on Monday as Texas A&M beat Kentucky 5-1 in an earlier round. Game 1 is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN, Game 2 is Sunday at 2 p.m. on ABC and, if necessary, Game 3 would be Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

⚾️ IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Max Fried takes the mound for the Atlanta Braves Sunday at 1:35 p.m. against the New York Yankees. The Philadelphia Phillies and catcher Garrett Stubbs host Joc Pederson and the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-game series this weekend. The Cleveland Guardians host rookie Spencer Horwitz and the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend; Horwitz is hitting .353 with 12 hits in 10 games since being called up June 7.

⚽️ IN SOCCER…

Goaltender Matt Turner and the U.S. Men’s National Team take on Bolivia in the Copa América group stage Sunday at 6 p.m. Team USA is expected to advance beyond the group stage, but may face stiff competition — such as powerhouses Brazil or Colombia — in the quarterfinals. In the MLS, DeAndre Yedlin (F.C. Cincinnati), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United) and Daniel Edelman (New York Red Bulls) are all in action Saturday at 7:30 p.m., while Zac MacMath and Real Salt Lake play Saturday at 9:30 p.m.

⛳️ IN GOLF…

Max Homa is competing in the Travelers Championship this weekend in Cromwell, Connecticut.

🏎️ IN RACING…

Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll will be on the grid for the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix Sunday at 9 a.m. Stroll, who’s currently eleventh in the F1 drivers championship standings, finished seventh in his hometown Canadian Grand Prix earlier this month.

A bid of history

In 1934, a number of MLB stars including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx embarked on a 12-city, 22-game baseball tour of Japan. While Ruth and Gehrig headlined the roster, a less-decorated but quietly interesting player joined them: Jewish catcher and U.S. government spy Moe Berg. Berg collected surveillance footage during the trip that would later be used as the U.S. prepared to battle Japan in World War II.

Ninety years later, a relic of the famous tour is up for auction at Lelands: a tour album that includes 23 original photos and signatures from the American players. Check it out here.

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