If there were a Mount Rushmore somewhere honoring the key historical figures in New Jersey hockey history, the face of John Warchol would surely be carved out on that granite.
The highly regarded and respected Warchol’s face will now be forever peering down on the rinks throughout the Garden State, fondly sitting overwatch on all the players, coaches, and yes, officials.
John Warchol, the longtime Seton Hall Prep coach, official, and New Jersey High School Ice Hockey Hall of Famer, passed away on Feb. 17 at the age of 87, and his death was a true blow to the Garden State’s hockey community.
Warchol skated onto the great sheet of ice in heaven the same day of the 64th Gordon Cup championship, a tournament that the Pirates won seven times under his tutelage.
If you were involved in scholastic hockey in New Jersey for the past five decades, you knew John Warchol. If you didn’t, you missed out on a special man.
It was Msgr. Michael Kelly who initially hired Warchol to take over the Seton Hall Prep program in 1972, and that’s where Warchol remained for 34 years (co-coaching with Peter Herms from 1997-2007), molding the Pirates into a perennial hockey powerhouse. He fashioned a 506-254-53 record, and is one of just three New Jersey coaches along with Brick’s Bob Auriemma and Chatham’s Harvey Cohen to reach the 500-win mark.
Warchol guided the Prep to seven Gordon Cup championships, four NJSIAA Non-Public titles and three Tournament of Champion crowns. He was an inaugural inductee into the New Jersey High School Ice Hockey Hall of fame in 2010.
John Warchol was Seton Hall Prep Hockey.
“He was a good, good human being who happened to make his way through life loving hockey,” said Joe Walsh, Seton Hall Prep’s athletic director from 1978-2014. “He loved hockey, he loved teaching kids, and he was very good at it. He was a gentle, humble, honest man. Msgr. Kelly hired John to coach our hockey team and the rest is history.
“He was just a joy to work with. He was a good, decent human being. I’ve had so many former players and kids tell me that John Warchol taught them how to skate.”
Warchol was inducted into the Seton Hall Prep Hall of Fame in 1992 and received the New Jersey Devils John McMullen Service Award for Hockey in the Garden State in 1995-96.
Before his coaching and officiating days, Warchol was a superb hockey player and was a member of the 1963 U.S. National Hockey team that competed throughout Europe. Warchol was also a well-respected official and did many games for the Eastern College Athletic Conference as both a referee and linesman. He was a long time member of the Metro NY/NJ NIHOA Chapter and a USA Hockey youth official.
“People need to know who came before them, who paved the way for them,” said Hall of Fame official and longtime North Jersey referee assignor Jack Lally, “and John Warchol was one of those people. John was just a great guy, and he was Seton Hall Prep. He was an awesome coach and the smoothest skater you ever saw. John passed away on the day of the Gordon Cup final and maybe in a way that’s kind of fitting. He was an absolute legend in New Jersey hockey. I’ll miss him.”
Indeed, Warchol was a hockey genius who was a gifted, fluid skater. He coached with patience and a smile. He racked up many wins, but more friends.
When I played college hockey at Seton Hall University in the early 1980s, and later coached the Pirates in 1986 & 1987, Warchol officiated some of our games and it was quite impressive how swift and effortless he was on his blades — and he was in his late 40s at that time. If you had a question, he always had a smile and a good answer.
If you were assessed a too-man-men on the ice penalty, he might skate by the bench and ask if you needed help counting. On his edges? Few were better. And who can forget him wearing his raccoon cap while coaching Prep games?
Serving with Warchol on the Hall of Fame committee for the previous 13 was a true privilege.
“He was a class guy on and off the ice,” said Seton Hall Prep Sports Information Director Jeff Goldberg, who knew Warchol for over 40 years. “John’s knowledge of hockey could not be matched by anyone. The respect the players had for him was unmatched. He was a kind man.”
“John was a terrific gentleman,” said Cohen, who coached against Warchol throughout four decades. “He loved hockey and loved coaching and being around kids and players. It was sad news for New Jersey hockey.”
Perhaps no one knew Warchol better than Tony Del Tufo, who first met Warchol as a rink-rat at the old Branch Brook Park in Newark. Del Tufo, an inaugural Hall of Fame inductee with Warchol in 2010, officiated from 1969 through 1983 and then became the official statistician of the New Jersey Interscholastic Hockey League.
“I’ve known John since I was 12-years-old ,” Del Tufo said. “When Branch Brook opened I was a kid and John worked at the rink; and he used to let me sneak in the back and skate. He wasn’t doing well lately but I was able to visit him on a few occasions, and I just spoke with him the Monday before he passed away and he said he was doing okay.
“He was a superb coach, he got along with everybody, and he was a square shooter. I was heartbroken when I heard that John had passed away.”
Brandon Doria played for Warchol at Seton Hall for three seasons, winning three Non-Public titles, two TOCs, a pair of Gordon Cups, and was named the NJ Devils Player of the Year and the NJ High School Player of the Year in 1999.
“Coach Warchol accomplished so much in his career,” said Doria, the former head coach at Millburn High School. “He has positively impacted countless hockey players, including myself. He helped build Seton Hall Prep’s hockey team into one of the best in the state; and has been instrumental in making New Jersey high school hockey what it is today. The New Jersey hockey family lost a great one, and he will be truly missed.”
Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel, who has amassed over 450 career wins, has many fond memories of Warchol.
“He taught me how to play hockey at Branch Brook Park when I was 10,” recalled Shatel, who was an assistant breaking into the coaching ranks on Warchol’s staff along with Herms when Seton Hall Prep won the Non-Public championship with one of the best teams in its history in 1998. “Coach Warchol has always been someone that I’ve respected and admired tremendously. He was a guy that gave back so much to hockey in New Jersey, and he should always be credited for that.
“He taught so many kids who went on to have success in this game, and many of them got into coaching themselves. John Warchol touched hundreds of lives. I’ll always remember him as a patient, gentle and a very respectful man who did great things for this game.”
Rest assured, John Warchol will forever peek down from his heavenly hockey perch, marveling at the continued growth of hockey and all the lives he’s influenced in New Jersey over the decades — and he’ll be loving every minute of it.
Hockey in New Jersey has so much more meaning because of John Warchol.
** Photos courtesy of Rich Morris/Seton Hall Prep