In just his second year at hockey's highest level, Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award which is given annually to the coach voted best in the NHL by league broadcasters.
Although he is the one being recognized at the 2018 NHL Awards, the recognition for the coach is a testament to the work that his team put in during the 2017-18 season.
"It feels great, it is a new experience for me. I am just trying to take it in and enjoy the couple days here," Bednar said about being at the NHL Awards. "To me, it's a tribute to our players and the dedication that they had in the drive and the focus that they kept all year. They are a fun group to work with, I enjoyed coaching them.
The bench boss led the Avalanche to 28 wins at Pepsi Center, tying the franchise record for home victories in a season that was first set in 2000-01, and its first Stanley Cup Playoff berth since the 2013-14 campaign.
After a 48-point season in 2016-17, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic and his staff refocused and began reshaping the team to be younger and faster. Despite the changes to the rost, Sakic kept his trust in Bednar.
"Last year, even when I talked to him, when we discussed having Jared come onboard, we knew it was going to be a tough year, and we had to get through it," Sakic said to the media after the Avs latest campaign ended. "I liked the way he coached last year, the way he held our guys, especially our young guys, accountable.
"I knew speaking with him during the course of the year (2016-17), the plans going into the summer, what we're going to expect of the players, getting ready for training camp--we we're already talking about that well before the end of the year. It never wavered. Really believe in Jared. He's a great coach, and he's done a tremendous job."
Colorado finished the 2017-18 campaign with 95 points, increasing its production by 47. The Avalanche is the first NHL team to post a 40-plus point improvement from one season to the next since the Pittsburgh Penguins also jumped 47 points from 2005-06 (58) to 2006-07 (105). The turnaround is tied for the fourth-highest, year-to-year progress in NHL history (80-plus game seasons only).
Although Sakic's assurance in him didn't waiver, having the chance to go through the process and help develop the Avalanche squad made it that much more meaningful for Bednar.
Video: Jared Bednar at the 2018 NHL Awards
"I was grateful to be back after the previous season," said Bednar. "For [Sakic] to show confidence in me and to get the opportunity again to coach these guys, a little bit of a new group, a different group as we start with the youth moment of our team, I was excited about it.
"I wanted to dig in and work as hard as I possibly can. The buy in from our leaders like [Nathan MacKinnon] and [Gabriel Landeskog]. Our whole group sort of coming together with the mindset that we were better than what we had shown the year before was basically our mission for the year, and it kind of capped off with a playoff berth. There is a lot to be proud of there and a lot to be thankful for in my case especially."
Not only did Bednar guide the Avalanche into the postseason, he did so with one of the youngest teams in the NHL.
Colorado dressed 11 different rookies during the course of the campaign, the most in Avalanche history and the second in the NHL. The group combined for 419 games, tops in the league, and the most ever by an Avs rookie class.
The group was tested throughout the course of the season with injuries and do-or-die situations and incessantly showed its strength.
In order to get into the playoffs, the Avalanche competed in a winner-take-all matchup with the St. Louis Blues in Game 82 on April 7 and convincingly won 5-2 at Pepsi Center to earn a berth to the postseason.
The squad also faced the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and came back from a 1-0 deficit late in Game 5 to win the contest 2-1 in regulation at Bridgestone Arena. The victory stretched the matchup to six games, the longest first-round series in the Western Conference.
"I think (those moments) showed a little bit of the maturity of our group, those are proud moments as a coach when your backs are against the wall," said Bednar. "You got to win at home, the pressure kind of comes on to us there, Game 82 and you come up with a big performance. The game in Nashville, they score late in the game to go up one and we were resilient.
"That's the thing about our team, we were playing, we kind of had this nothing-to-lose type attitude. We wanted to make sure that we proved to ourselves that we were a better team than we showed the year before and there was a lot of changes and that we were a different group. To be a resilient group like that, to push that series to one more game, to Game 6. We didn't have a great outing (in Game 6), but our team is going to learn from all those different scenarios as we draw back on that."
Regardless of if he is presented with the Jack Adams Award at Wednesday's award ceremony in Las Vegas, Bednar is eager to begin working towards another playoff berth behind the Avalanche bench in 2018-19 and possibly more.
"I am excited," Bednar said about next season. "I think if our team comes back with that same mindset and that same determination and commitment that we had last year I think we can learn from some of the situations we were in this year and hopefully we can continue to improve."