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Bednar A Great Fit For Sakic And The Avs

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The timing of it might have been a bit unconventional, but Colorado Avalanche executive vice president/general manager Joe Sakic got the guy he hopes will lead the team toward a championship.

Not often do NHL head coaching jobs become available in mid-August, but that was what the Avs were faced with after a vacancy in that position two weeks ago. Most teams had hired new head coaches and staff back in May and June, but Colorado had to begin the process with training camp just weeks away.

Despite the short window to work with, it didn't take long for Sakic to find the franchise's next coach in Jared Bednar, who was fresh off winning the American Hockey League Calder Cup championship with the Lake Erie Monsters, the top minor-league affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"We're very confident and comfortable with Jared leading our group," Sakic said on a conference call with the media on Thursday. "I like the way his teams play. I think it suits and fits with how we play. We have a fast forward group and that up-tempo, pressure game all over the ice is, first of all exciting, and it will suit our team."

During the interview process, Bednar eyed the Avalanche roster and saw the appeal of coaching a team with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson, and Tyson Barrie on its roster. His system should work nicely with the current assortment of young players and solid veterans, which includes Jarome Iginla, Carl Soderberg, Cody McLeod, Blake Comeau and Francois Beauchemin.

"It's an exciting group. I think there is a group of forwards especially that can be dynamic, guys that play fast," Bednar said. "I just see it being a good fit as well. The league is getting faster every day, and we have to find a way to put a structure in place to get these guys playing an up-tempo style and help support all over the ice as well."

The possibility of being named an NHL head coach in the dog days of summer was a bit unexpected for Bednar, who was getting ready to help the Monsters defend their AHL title.

However, when the Avalanche came calling, it was an opportunity that he wanted to take advantage of. He had let his route to the NHL happen naturally, and it paid off.

"It's a little bit of a different situation because of the time of it," Bednar said. "I've never tried to get on the fast track to get to the NHL. I feel like the goal is to do a good job where you are and be consistent and hone your craft, and that is what I've been doing throughout the years. I was fortunate enough to land in a great situation with the Columbus organization, and more particularly in Cleveland. I was happy here as a coach, and it's a great place to coach and a great place to be. When this opportunity came up, it was just something that I couldn't pass up. I wanted to be involved in it right away."

Though Bednar, 44, said there is still plenty of time before camp opens in nearly three weeks, he admitted he is going to rely on the pieces currently in place in the short term while he gets the lay of the land of the team and the organization.

"It's probably not the ideal situation, but I'll probably rely heavily on the coaching staff in place and the management team and get into Denver as quick as possible and utilize everyone's expertise and their experience in those areas to help us get organized," said Bednar, referring to the quick turnaround with a new team.

"I'll spend my time familiarizing myself, and not only digging deeper on the players and the way we want to play, but talking with those guys and getting their expertise and opinions on things as we put our plan together going into training camp."

Finding a coach in August threw a wrench in the Avalanche's late-summer plans, but it proved to be an opportunity for Sakic to make one last tweak to the team before beginning his fourth season at the helm.

There were still plenty of quality, NHL-caliber coaches available, and Sakic took his time and did his homework to find the right person for the job.

"We interviewed a lot of candidates, different candidates," Sakic revealed. "We interviewed some guys from the American Hockey League, some current NHL assistant coaches, some with head coach experience, and we wanted to do a different flavor to see the right fit for our organization. I liked Jared's track record. He won an [ECHL] championship, he just won the Calder Cup."

After narrowing his list of candidates to two individuals on Wednesday, Sakic got a good night's sleep to think it over one last time before feeling confident enough that Bednar was the right person for the job.

It ended up being a perfect hire for Sakic given Bednar's winning pedigree and the way his teams have played.

"I know from talking with a lot of different people that he is a very demanding coach but fair to the players. The players respect that. They play for him," Sakic said. "The way he likes his team to play the game, I think it is going to be a real good fit."

While the new Colorado coach never made it to the NHL as a player, he had worked his way through the minor-league system for nine professional seasons and won two championships. He helped the South Carolina Stingrays to the ECHL Kelly Cup in 1997 and 2001, and then won another tittle in 2009 as the head coach of the team after just two years on the job.

After moving to the AHL and spending three seasons as a head coach with the Peoria Rivermen and Springfield Falcons, he added another prize to his trophy case last year by leading Lake Erie on an impressive run that saw the club go 15-2 in the postseason and sweep the Western Conference Final and Calder Cup Final.

"I think the work that you put into the job helps you get to where you're going and where you would like to get to as a professional," Bednar said. "That goes with any line of work. I take this very seriously. I've been preparing for this my whole career, and I'm a competitor and that's what I put in on a daily basis. I worked extremely hard. I know our team will do the same thing."

The Yorkton, Saskatchewan, native is proud of where he has come from and is looking forward to what's ahead for him and his family.

"Having played a number of years in the minors, when I started coaching my ultimate goal was to get to the NHL and coach at the highest level and earn an opportunity to compete for a Stanley Cup," Bednar said. "That was my goal going into it. I worked real hard in trying to achieve those goals and this is another step in that direction. It is something that I take a lot of pride in and something I've worked very hard for. It hasn't been an overnight thing, it's taken some time, and I think all my stops along the way has helped prepared me for this."

Bednar's first NHL regular season game is just 51 days away.

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