Success or failure depends on the team as a whole and its leader. This is true for any team and more so for the Colorado Avalanche. Coach Jared Bednar has proven he can guide his team to win games. It has taken some time to get where he is now, but it’s been a learning experience. His success behind the bench is greatly due to the mutual respect he has with his players as a player’s coach.
From Humble Beginnings
Bednar played nine seasons in the minors and retired following the 2001-02 season. The last team he played for, the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, hired him as their assistant coach for the next five seasons. After being promoted to head coach, Bednar led his team through two successful seasons. They won the Kelly Cup in the 2008-09 season, his first championship as a head coach. He will also be inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame next year thanks to his success.
Bednar left the ECHL for the American Hockey League to become the assistant coach of the Abbotsford Heat for a season. The next two seasons he assumed the head coach position for the Peoria Rivermen.
Bednar began the 2012-13 season as the assistant coach for the Springfield Falcons, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate. He was promoted to head coach after two seasons and moved with the team to the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland, Ohio. The team won the Calder Cup in the 2015-16 season and he was awarded a two-year contract extension. He did not, however, fulfill that contract.
Bednar as an NHL Coach
Bednar was hired by the Avalanche on Aug. 25, 2016, but did not walk into a well-oiled machine. At the young age of 44, his first NHL season was not a good one. In fact, he had to clean up the mess made by former Avs coach, Patrick Roy.
As part of general manager Joe Sakic’s vision to build his team into a championship club, he chose a different approach for his new coach. “I think he’ll be a great fit. His system, the way he likes to put pressure, I think that’s gonna really utilize our forwards to the best of their ability,” Sakic said in an interview on Aug. 30, 2016. “He’s demanding. And the players understand that, and they love playing for him.”
His players were excited about his faster, get-the-puck up ice with less D-to-D passing implementation to match their young, speedy playing style.
Nathan MacKinnon told Terry Frei of The Denver Post prior to opening night of the 2016-17 season, “It’s great for me. I can just skate and not think so much. Be aggressive. I think the biggest thing is that if we’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to be aggressive mistakes. We’ve been very passive the last couple of seasons, I think, and that’s on us as much as the coaching staff. But for us, aggressive mistakes is kind of like, ‘I didn’t think I heard him right.’ I think he only said that once, but it kind of stuck with me. I really liked that term.” (from ‘New Avalanche coach Jared Bednar: On the man and his system’, The Denver Post, 10/12/16)
Bednar’s first season was the worst in the history of the franchise since moving to Denver. The Avalanche finished seventh in the Central Division with an abysmal 22-56-4 record (worst in the NHL for the season), and they missed the playoffs.
Respectfully, Bednar took responsibility for his own mistakes as he was learning in his first NHL coaching season. Bednar told Terry Frei of The Denver Post following the 2016-17 season, “If you have one or two players who don’t show up, then that’s on them. When you don’t have the whole team show up, then that’s on me.” (from ‘Avalanche 2016-17 Season in Review: Colorado sinks to new low’, The Denver Post, 4/6/17)
In his second season behind the bench, Bednar won 21 more games than in the previous one, improving his team’s point total from 48 to 95, and was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award. “I’m really proud of this team,” Bednar said after the last game of the regular season on Apr. 17, 2018. “You go through what [we] went through last year and there are doubters along the way and even, at times, you doubt yourself…You have to respond, and we did that.”
The Avalanche finished fourth in the Central Division and made the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round by the Nashville Predators in six games.
As Bednar continued to improve and gain experience, his third season proved as impressive as his second. The team finished with 90 points (fifth in the Central Division) and again made the playoffs.
Unlike their early exit the previous season, the Avalanche won their first series against the Calgary Flames in five games but lost in the second round to the San Jose Sharks in seven games with a controversial call in the final game.
Avalanche So Far this Season
Shaking off the disappointing loss, the Avalanche made some major changes in the offseason. As exciting as these moves were, it posed a challenge for coach Bednar and his staff to build chemistry with the new and existing players.
Bednar discussed the difference between being a good team and a really good team in his pre-game interview for opening night on Oct. 3:
Although the team has dealt with injuries and adversity through the first half of the season, their enthusiasm and passion for the game make it apparent they like playing for Bednar. He has a calm demeanor and instills a strong work ethic through team meetings, rather than punishment.
The Avalanche are a young team and coach Bednar holds his players accountable for their actions and demands ownership for their mistakes. There have been unfavorable reactions from various players but the issues always get worked out and the team doesn’t fall apart.
His future with the Avalanche was solidified when they awarded him a two-year contract extension prior to the beginning of this season. The team has a lot of depth and talent, but it takes a great leader to help them to win. As of now, they sit in second place in the Western Conference. If his players continue to enjoy playing and working hard for him and themselves, they’ll continue to win games.
With a Mass Communications and Journalism degree from Florida International University, I completed internships with the Florida Panthers Hockey Club and Sports Illustrated. I’ve published several articles for various outlets, including one in ESPN Magazine and one on espn.com.