The Colorado Avalanche have become a dominant team in the NHL. Led by arguably the best player in the game, Nathan MacKinnon, the Avs are entering the 2020-21 season with high expectations. Therefore, many now are familiar with fourth-year head coach Jared Bednar. Some could argue that he has the best coaching gig in the league.
Yet, his success in Colorado did not happen by accident. Bednar paid his dues playing and coaching multiple levels before getting his shot in the Mile High City.
Bednar began his career in the SJHL representing the Humboldt Broncos from 1989 to 1991 as a teenager. Next up was a three-season stint in the WHL playing four different teams. The 6-foot-3 defenseman was far from a star. He played a total of 152 games collecting 73 points and 368 penalty minutes. Bednar never shied away from physical play.
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After going undrafted in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, Bednar spent the better part of eight seasons in the ECHL. Despite starting with the Huntington Blizzard his first two seasons, he found real home and success with the South Carolina Stingrays. Throughout his six seasons in Charleston, Bednar became the captain of the team. He led them to two Kelly Cup championships in 1997 and 2001.
He also had two short stints in the American Hockey League with the St. John Maple Leafs and Rochester Americans. Despite playing 148 games in the AHL, reaching the next level was an unrealistic goal for the defensemen. After his second ECHL title, the 28-year old hung up his skates and moved behind the bench.
Early Coaching Career
Given his reputation and successful career with the Stingrays, Bednar opted to join the team’s coaching staff for the 2001-02 season. He partnered up with a close friend and head coach Jason Fitzsimmons as his assistant. Based on the experience of his playing career, Bednar took on the role of defensive coach. Over the next five years, he became one of Fitzsimmons’ most trusted assistant.
In 2007, Fitzsimmons left South Carolina for a scouting position in the NHL with the Washington Capitals and Bednar took over as head coach. His coaching style was focused on communication and hard work ethic. The former Stingray captain followed a strict, no-nonsense approach as well. The idea of giving his best player special treatment was not a part of his DNA.
For instance, in the 2007-08 season, he traded away his top scorer days after showing up late to the team bus. His style of coaching proved to be successful with a record of 47-22-2 in his first season. In his second season, he reached new heights in the Kelly Cup Final outlasting the Alaska Aces in a thrilling seven-game series. Bednar became apart of a limited group of individuals to win the Kelly Cup both as a player and as a coach.
Following over a decade of success in South Carolina, Bednar made the jump to the AHL as the assistant coach of the Abbotsford Heat. His stint with the Heat was short due to a head coaching opportunity the following season in Illinois.
Bednar was appointed head coach of the Peoria Rivermen in 2010. He found impressive success during his two years with a 91-63-12 record and one playoff appearance. Also, 23 of his players were called-up to the St. Louis Blues lineup in that timeframe.
Interestingly, current Avs defenseman Ian Cole was apart of the Rivermen’s roster for during those two seasons. Despite his apparent success, the Blues opted to part ways Bednar following his second season. It was a moment of adversity, perhaps the first one of his coaching career. However, he quickly bounced back becoming the assistant coach for the Springfield Falcons in 2012.
He served as an assistant coach for two years with the Columbus Blue Jackets affiliate. His crucial role in player development did not go unnoticed as he was appointed the head coach for the Falcons in 2014-15.
“Jared has been instrumental in the development of several of our prospects in Springfield while serving as an assistant coach and was a big part of the team’s recent success,”
For the next two seasons, Bednar posted a record of 80-50-21 in Springfield and then with the Lake Erie Monsters after the Blue Jackets changed affiliations. He embodied winning culture everywhere he went. The pinnacle of his coaching career came in 2016 as he led the Monsters the Calder Cup with a dominant 15-2 playoff run. By then, it was clear that Bednar was ready to coach at the next level.
Bednar First Season in Colorado
Following success at every level of hockey, Bednar received his first coaching opportunity at the NHL level in 2016. On Aug. 11, former Avalanche legend and third-year coach Patrick Roy resigned. Despite the rumors surrounding general manager Joe Sakic and coach Roy’s failure to see eye to eye on many hockey-related matters, the decision to resign late in the offseason came as a surprise to all.
With time pressing, Sakic rushed into a coaching search party. Shortly after, on Aug. 25, Bednar was appointed as head coach of the Avalanche.
It was far from an ideal situation for the 44-year-old rookie coach given he had only six weeks before the start of the regular season. Along with the short amount of time, the roster construction of the team was less than ideal. Despite making the playoffs during Roy’s first season, the Avs had failed to do so since. Their point total was on the declined every year heading into the 2016-17 season.
Therefore, with all signs indicating possible failure, the Avalanche chose to do so in an impressive manner in 2016-17. They finished the season with an abysmal record of 22-56-8 and the worst point total in modern NHL history with 48. Colorado ranked just about last in every single team category that season.
Following the disastrous campaign, it appeared that Bednar would be on his way out. Given the circumstances, many believed Sakic had appointed him as a place holder in the previous summer. Yet, Sakic chose to give Bednar a second chance and perhaps a fair chance to succeed with a full offseason to prepare.
Bounce Back Season
The expectations entering the 2017-18 campaign were relatively low for Colorado. The front office was heading into a full rebuild. The Avs had the youngest roster in the league with an average age of 25.8 years old. Perhaps the young roster and rebuilding job ahead convinced Sakic to stick with Bednar. After all, he had a great track record at developing young players in the past.
On Nov. 5, 2017, as expected the Avalanche shook up their roster by trading away All-Star forward Matt Duchene in a blockbuster three-team deal. The trade turned out to be a steal for the Avalanche landing young defenseman Samuel Girard along with other future assets.
During the season, Bednar’s main focused was player development. Therefore, he gave ample opportunities for his young talented players to shine. The strategy proved to be a success as the trio of MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen was born.
They combined for 93 goals that season, 36.5% of the teams total. On the back end, 22-year-old Nikita Zadorov and newly acquired Girard cemented the Avs’ top four pairings. The young talented core led the Avs to an incredible 47-point improvement from the previous season. They topped off the season with its first playoff appearance in three years. Overall, Bednar’s success was recognized with an impressive nomination for the Jack Adams Award.
New Expectations Going Forward
Fast forward to 2020, Bednar just completed his fourth season behind the bench in Colorado with three straight playoff appearances. His success over his first three seasons earned him a well deserved two years extension in the summer of 2019. Therefore, he will remain under contract through the 2021-22 season. With that said, the rebuilding job now completed, a new challenge arises.
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The Avs are entering their championship aspiration window. Winning in the playoffs is something very familiar for Bednar. His winning ways have earned him numerous championships in the past. But, can he achieve the same level of success in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs? The question has yet to be answered. Using 2020 as an example of failure to make a deep run is very unfair. The Avalanche suffered a tremendous amount of injuries during their run. Entering the game seven loss to the Dallas Stars, the Avs were missing eight key players in their lineup.
- Connor Timmons
- Erik Johnson
- Matt Calvert
- Joonas Donskoi
- Philipp Grubauer
- Pavel Francouz
Not only were they on their third-string goalie, but they were also missing their captain in Landeskog. Needless to say, the failure of moving past the second round of the playoff should be overshadowed by the resilience shown by the team. They were only one goal away from moving onto the conference final.
The 2020-21 season will be a defining one for Bednar and the Avalanche. The two are expected to achieve great things and hopefully have a Stanley Cup to show for. With that said, expect Bednar to push the right buttons and make their dreams a reality. After all, the guy wins championships everywhere he goes. And hopefully, he will be able to add Colorado at the very top of his list of achievements after leading them to their first Stanley Cup in 20 years.