It’s never easy to move on from a job you love – especially when the decision is out of your hands.
Jared Bednar found that out firsthand over the summer, but also has found how thankful he is to have landed in a great spot.
The 40-year-old former minor-league defenseman has accomplished a lot in a short period of time as a coach. Winning seems to follow him wherever he goes, which would suggest it’s not much of a coincidence.
He has made the playoffs at every stop and won a Kelly Cup championship as coach of the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays in 2009 – a team he once played for.
So when his contract wasn’t renewed after two successful seasons leading the St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate in Peoria, Ill., it wasn’t a comfortable experience by any means. But Bednar went to the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh with a fresh outlook, determined to find a good fit for him to continue his coaching career.
There were multiple conversations with several coaches and organizations that either had openings or would soon be looking to fill them. When he heard there could be an opportunity in Springfield with the Falcons, it piqued his interest right away.
He knew of Brad Larsen and Nolan Pratt, and with all three of them having a lot in common (former players, AHL veterans, all around the same age), he figured it would be in his best interest to make contact.
After the first talk, Bednar knew there was a lot to like about working with Springfield.
“I was also exploring a couple of other opportunities at the time,” Bednar told BlueJackets.com. “As it turned out, the people in Columbus were patient and allowed me to pursue a head coaching job I was looking at. That didn’t work out, so I gave Springfield a call and let them know it was a job I was really intrigued by.
“I know a handful of people in their organization, and after speaking with Brad, Nolan and people that know them, this was an obvious choice and one that I wanted to get into.”
The similarities between the members of the Falcons coaching staff are hard to ignore. Bednar said he shares many of the same philosophies as Larsen and Pratt, and they believe in dealing with players in the same ways.
Bednar found that out by “doing his homework,” he said, much like he knew his potential employers would be researching him throughout the process.
“You have to have similar views on the game and how you want to treat your players and how you want to challenge them,” Bednar said. “We have a lot in common; we’re young, passionate coaches who bring a lot of enthusiasm to the rink every day. That’s something I believe strongly in; there’s a strong desire to win and have success here.
“When you start taking all those things into account, this can be a real positive environment here in Springfield for our players to develop and learn with each other.”
The Falcons’ 2-1-0 preseason record was bolstered by the goal-scoring outburst of Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, but the dynamic young forward signed over the summer is just one of many talented forwards under Bednar’s watch.
He will work in tandem with Larsen during games to keep an eye on forward lines, while Pratt will oversee the defense pairings and make sure they’re getting the proper match-ups on the blue line.
Players like Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert and Ryan Russell (to name a few) fit right into the up-tempo, “on your toes” style of hockey that Larsen and his staff want the Falcons to play. And when he met with the Blue Jackets coaching staff at the draft, Bednar found even more common ground.
“Our staff here (in Springfield) went over how Columbus is going to play and determined we want to play very similar, or as close as we possibly can,” Bednar explained. “It’s the same way Todd Richards wants to play, and it’s good to have that at both levels. When players go from the American Hockey League to the National Hockey League level, they have that familiarity with the structure and systems.
“I’m real passionate about that style of play and coaching players to play that way. It’s very similar to how my team played in Peoria over the last couple of years. I just feel like when you come to the rink and enjoy the guys you’re working with, and you’re passionate about winning and getting better, the type of culture we want to create here mirrors that.”
Bednar has jumped into his new job head-first and is enjoying every minute of it. He, Pratt and Larsen have formed a solid leadership trio for the Falcons that every player on the roster can relate to.
He and his coaching staff have been through the battles, they have traveled the world in every imaginable way just to play hockey and they know all of the sacrifices that go hand-in-hand with pursuing a childhood dream.
So far, it has been the ideal landing spot for a guy who wanted to land somewhere he could make a difference.
“We have a great group of guys here and our veteran leaders are eager to help our young prospects out in adapting to this level. I like the way our guys are coming to work and the attitude they’ve brought.”
“I can tell this is a great place to coach and I’m excited about the season,” Bednar said. “You can see with the group of men that we have here, and where they are in their careers, these are young guys hungry to play at the NHL level.
“That mix is going to be healthy for us, and I’m looking forward to helping them grow as players and people both on and off the ice.”