Two milestones in one night, and so continues the legacy of Jared Bednar.
Bednar, who is in his seventh season as the Head Coach of the Colorado Avalanche, appended on his already impressive and successful resume on Tuesday night as he eclipsed the 500-game NHL milestone (all with the Avalanche) and simultaneously became the winningest coach in franchise history (266 wins) as Colorado extended its win streak to six games with a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals.
And while Bednar was deservingly the center of the postgame conversation, the humble coach didn’t want to occupy the dialogue towards his personal achievements, but rather chose to direct it towards the effort on behalf of his team.
“I’m glad it’s here and gone so we can stop talking about it,” Bednar said with a laugh. “We didn’t play our best game tonight, but I’m happy that we were able to get the two points to put us up in the standings. That’s our focus.”
For Bednar, it’s been quite the journey, to say the least, throughout his tenure as Colorado’s bench boss.
Despite having never played professional hockey higher than the American Hockey League (AHL) level, Bednar channeled his passion for the sport into his coaching career where he has now become the only coach ever to win at all three professional hockey levels (NHL, AHL, East Coast Hockey League). He coached the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL to a Kelly Cup championship in 2008-09, led the Lake Erie Monsters to an AHL Calder Cup championship in 2015-16 and of course, guided the Avalanche to claim the third Stanley Cup in franchise history last June.
“His details and how he motivates players is pretty unique,” Logan O’Connor said. “He gets players to play the right way and guys want to go to war for him because of how hard he works in his day-to-day preparation. He knows when to push guys and when to let off guys in different moments depending on the person and what will maximize their potential. He has a really great understanding of which guys work well together and when to give opportunities for guys to move up the lineup and when to reward guys for doing the right sort of thing. He gets the most out of his players. He demands a level of accountability, details and structure. I think because of all that it’s not surprising he’s won at every level.”
The now 50-year-old Yorkton, Saskatchewan native took over as the seventh coach in Avalanche history less than a month before training camp of the dismal 2016-17 season.
His first season was full of adversity and important lessons as Colorado finished the season with 48 points and last in the league standings. But following a lengthy offseason, some surgery to the Avalanche’s dressing room, some promising draft picks, etc. Bednar, his staff and the team returned re-energized and embarked on a trajectory that would quickly evolve the Avalanche from last in the league to Stanley Cup Champions within the span of five years.
“It’s a fine line between winning and losing, there’s some worry in there,” Bednar said when reflecting upon his tenure as Avs Head Coach. “This isn’t a forgiving league. It’s a results-oriented league. Coaches tend to get moved on fairly quickly I would say. I would say that I’m fortunate to work with people of the Colorado Avalanche organization. They’ve shown me a lot of trust. It’s a two-way street. After my first year, I thought there would be a better than average chance that I would be let go. I would just have to deal with it and move on, but I was fortunate to get the second chance in my second year. I thought we had a great year. It was a fun year. There were lots of changes personnel wise, there was a different attitude around the room. They were young, fast. It was a team that was going to be rebuilding and I think we got there a lot quicker than most people thought we would. I wouldn’t say there was a lot of self-doubt, but a lot of eternal evaluation.”
And as the current third-longest tenured head coach in the NHL behind Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper (2013) and Mike Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins (2015), it’s no surprise that his players are his biggest advocates.
On the Sportsnet 32 Thoughts Podcast hosted by Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, prior to the 2022-23 season at the NHL Players Media Tour in Las Vegas, Nathan MacKinnon detailed his own relationship with Bednar.
“[Bednar] is a really chill guy, which is good for my relationship with a coach,” MacKinnon said. “I’m not so chill sometimes. I’ll get all fired up and he’s like, ‘It’s OK.’ He’s like a surfer guy. He gets really fiery too when he has to. He doesn’t come in everyday the same. He picks his spots and reads the room. He has a great relationship with the players. He grinded. He was playing in the Coast, and won as a coach in [the Coast] and the [AHL]. It wasn’t like he played 20 years in the NHL and then got a job. I think those are the best coaches. It’s like Jon Cooper, he didn’t play [in the NHL either].“
One of the consistent strengths of Bednar that players across the Avalanche’s dressing room continuously highlighted was the sharp wealth of intellect that he has towards his own personnel as well as the opposition’s and how he’s able to effectively assemble and deploy a lineup that is apt to dismantle or neutralize the threats of the opponent.
“He’s a new-era coach, he’s not like old-school coaches,” Mikko Rantanen said. “He can be very close to the players, he’s a player’s coach. He is very good with matchups. In the playoffs, it’s very important and he’s very good at thinking about what players should play together, against what line will they be matched up with, how should they play to be successful. It’s not easy to stay with one team for seven years, but he has and we’ve been successful too. We had those struggles to get past the Second Round, but obviously he was someone I was really happy for when we won the Cup last year.”
And now as the Avalanche continue their quest to defend their Cup while they’re currently in the middle of a season that’s been riddled with injuries and subsequent challenges, it’s a fitting time to recognize Bednar’s achievements given the circumstances as they will continue this journey together under his tutelage.
“He always pushes us to continue to want more,” J.T. Compher said. “It all culminated in last year, even when we were playing well he always had stuff for us to work on. As a team, we appreciated that desire to always get better and he always pushes us towards that. He has a good demeanor. He’s never too high or too low. Whether we’re losing a few in a row or winning a few in a row, he always helps us have that narrow perspective to make sure we’re playing to the best of our abilities. Guys respect him. He loves the game and he loves his team.”