Nowadays, you can still find assistant head coach of the University of Georgia’s club ice hockey team, Ryan Bray, skating on an ice hockey rink. But most of his time is spent teaching some of the same guys he once shared the rink with a couple of years ago.
After a successful career on the ice playing for the Ice Dawgs in 2016 and 2017 and a hockey focussed upbringing, Bray traded a playing career for a coaching career.
“His player qualities carried over into his coaching,” said Christopher Santa Maria, a 2019 graduate who knew Bray as a player before he was a coach. “He was a player’s coach when we needed it and a coach’s coach when we were lacking discipline and direction. He was able to efficiently balance those different coaching attitudes.”
There is not a single university in Georgia that has ice hockey listed as a varsity sport, but Georgia’s club hockey team, the Ice Dawgs, is one of the university’s most well supported teams with nearly 20 sponsors and consistent game attendance in the fall and winter.
Georgia ice hockey has also seen a large growth in game attendance the past four years. But this is not enough. Bray wants to see the club sport added to the list of varsity sports at Georgia. He wants to share his love for the sport.
Involvement early on
Bray is a native of Atlanta, a city without a professional hockey team ever since the Atlanta Thrashers were sold in 2011. Ice hockey isn’t exactly a popular sport among most kids.
His passion for hockey can be traced to his father, Bill Bray, who grew up in Buffalo, New York. After moving to Atlanta, his father chose not to abandon ice hockey, so he began refereeing for the local ice hockey leagues to stay involved with the sport.
Bray was always encouraged to play sports growing up, but was not immediately allowed to play hockey. His mother would not give him permission to play at an early age, presumably due to the aggressive nature of the sport.
Though he tried basketball, soccer and baseball, they were never a good match. The pace of play was never fast enough.
“[My baseball coaches] bounced me around because I couldn’t sit still,” Bray said.
After one season of baseball, the Brays realized it was time for Ryan to try something else.
Bray didn’t just love playing ice hockey as a kid. He also enjoyed watching teams like the Atlanta Thrashers play as well as familiarizing himself with the hockey atmosphere. In middle school, Bray was a stick-boy for the Gwinnett Gladiators, a minor-league affiliate of the Thrashers. He was introduced to current Ice Dawgs head coach Rick Emmett, former player on the Gladiators team.
“Seeing those guys at the peak of their game, how they conducted themselves, and how they approached the game was huge for me and my career,” Bray said.
Off to Virginia and back to Georgia
Bray moved to Lynchburg, Virginia for college in 2013, attending Liberty University. There he notched his first national championship appearance, but he transferred back to his home state, attending UGA from 2015-2017.
During Bray’s two seasons at Georgia, the Ice Dawgs won back-to-back Southeastern Conference Championships in 2016 and 2017. In 2016 he was a part of the All-SEC second team.
Bray saved his best season for last, earning first-team All-SEC in 2017, and being named the MVP of the conference.
“[Bray was] a player that was very intuitive,” Emmett said. “He was very vested into the team… he was a joy to coach and wasn’t difficult to motivate or keep focused.”
If you ask Bray what made him so successful as a player, he is quick to mention the coaches, teammates and the situation he was placed into.
“I wasn’t the most skilled player out there,” Bray said. “I played hard and took advantage of what my teammates and coaches did.”
As much as Bray credits those who work with him, the accolades he received as a player are a testament to his skill, and the praise he receives as a coach is a testament to his knowledge of the game.
Through his years of playing hockey, Bray was able to develop the knowledge needed to coach. Coaching college-aged hockey players has prepared him for his next challenge: fatherhood. He is now raising his new son, Ryder, with his wife, Ansley.
“Our child has definitely contributed to me losing some sleep at night,” Bray said. “But coaching 20 kids has definitely made it an easier process.”