It’s a long forgotten fact that the first coach of the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise was NHL legend, Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Richard agreed to take the head coaching job for the inaugural season of the Nordiques, who were joining the newly created World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1972. But Richard quickly found he had no stomach for coaching and tendered his resignation after just one game. He technically stayed on for a second game, giving the team time to find a replacement, but was on the bench for the second contest in name only. The Rocket finished with a 1-1-0 record as a head coach.
Bednar Three Wins Away from History
Current Avalanche Coach Jared Bednar has fared better. With the Avalanche winning last night against the Vancouver Canucks, Bednar needs just three more wins, for a total of 194, to vault past Bob Hartley and become the winningest coach in Avalanche history. (Bednar will rank second in franchise history, trailing only Michel Bergeron, who tallied 253 wins in the 1980s.)
Bednar joined the Avalanche just as the club was hitting bottom. He took the helm at the start of the 2016-17 season, which saw Colorado finish with a record of 22-56-4, and a points percentage of just 0.293, the worst since the club moved to Colorado. The following season, the Avalanche surprised most hockey observers by not only finishing with a winning record, but by making the playoffs.
The team has gotten consistently better since the start of Bednar’s tenure. Here’s the Avalanche record in the Bednar era.
|Season||Wins||Losses||Overtime Losses||Points Percentage|
If you exclude Bednar’s first year as an outlier season, his record is an impressive 168-98-36, with a points percentage of 0.583.
Bednar’s First Season Challenge
Bednar walked into a nearly impossible situation that first season. Colorado’s head coach, Patrick Roy, the Hall of Fame goalie who led the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups, and whose number 33 now hangs in the rafters at Ball Arena, surprised the hockey world by abruptly announcing his resignation less then a month before the 2016-17 training camp was set to begin.
Roy, who announced the resignation in a press release, claimed he didn’t have “a say in the decisions that impact[ed] the team’s performance.” It was an obvious swipe at his former teammate and Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic. Outside observers at the time believed Roy was too set in his ways, and was unwilling to adopt the same kind of statistical analysis that was revolutionizing the entire world of sports. Sakic was trying to move the team forward, and Roy wasn’t on board with the plan.
The team held an accelerated search process, landing on Bednar. “After profiling the type of coach I wanted for our team and going through an interview process with several good candidates, I believe that Jared Bednar is the best person to lead this team behind the bench,” Sakic said at the time. “Jared’s track record of success as a head coach in the American Hockey League speaks for itself and he is considered to be one of the top up-and-coming coaches in our business.”
Even with the confidence of management behind him, Bednar still had no time to hire his own staff or implement a new system, and the season quickly became a lost cause – but it didn’t take the new coach long to turn things around. The team started the 2017-18 campaign 12-9-2. “I’m more comfortable, for sure,” Bednar told Mile High Hockey’s Terry Frei at the time. “I learned a lot last year. To me, we’re still trying to play the same way. We made some minor adjustments that have helped us. I think the hunger of our team is better.” The Avalanche went on to make the playoffs, losing in the first round to the Nashville Predators.
A Tough-as-Nails Winner
Bednar’s calm, even demeanor as a coach, patiently explaining decisions and honestly assessing his team when asked, has made him a fan favorite. It also stands in sharp contrast to his more combative days as a player. Playing his junior hockey with four different teams in the Western Hockey League (WHL), Bednar tallied 554 penalty minutes in 152 games. He carried that same brand of physical play into the ECHL, the International Hockey League, and brief trips to the AHL.
Winning is nothing new to Bednar. The Yorkton, Saskatchewan native won the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League (AHL) as head coach of the Lake Erie Monsters, and the Kelly Cup in the ECHL as head coach of the South Carolina Stingrays, where Bednar also spent time as a minor league player.
Known to friends and colleagues for his honesty, intelligence, and work ethic, Bednar has thrived in Colorado, his achievements culminating in a Presidents’ Trophy for his club in last year’s COVID-shortened season. The only thing left for Bednar, now the fifth longest tenured coach in the NHL, is to deliver the Stanley Cup back to Denver.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.