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Jared Bednar's preparation big part of his success

Avalanche 'a work in progress', but new coach has team off to 2-1-0 start after unbeaten preseason

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar smiled when reminded of the story, which was appropriate because it involves a joke.

Bednar was at his beach house in Charleston, South Carolina, when he heard Patrick Roy had unexpectedly resigned as coach of the Avalanche on Aug. 11. Bednar's good friend Jason Fitzsimmons, a pro scout with the Washington Capitals, was visiting and joked, "You'd better start preparing for Colorado."

Bednar was coming off a Calder Cup championship with Lake Erie (now Cleveland), the Columbus Blue Jackets' American Hockey League affiliate. He never had coached or played in the NHL and laughed off Fitzsimmons' suggestion at the time.

"He made a joke in passing, but here I am," Bednar said Tuesday. "He must have known something."

The Avalanche called a few days later, and after being hired on Aug. 25, Bednar, 44, immediately commenced what he called "a cram session" to get ready for the start of training camp Sept. 23. The whirlwind continued while the Avalanche went 6-0-0 in the preseason and began the regular season by defeating the Dallas Stars 6-5 on Saturday and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in overtime on Monday.

But the dream start to Bednar's dream job came to a screeching halt with a 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. After getting outshot 20-5 in the first period and 40-18 for the game, the Avalanche could have blamed it on fatigue from playing their third game in four nights and facing a rested team that won the Presidents' Trophy last season.

Bednar wasn't having any of that.

"We're not a team that's going to look for excuses," he said. "We weren't good enough to start the game. We weren't hard enough. We weren't ready to skate. They were. We knew it was going to be a tough turnaround but that can't happen. In my opinion that type of period has to be unacceptable for this group."

If the loss was a dose of reality for the Avalanche, Bednar was prepared for it.

"We're a work in progress for sure," he said. "We've been doing a lot of good things in practice and the games, but we still have our moments."

Prior to Tuesday, Bednar was on a personal 17-game winning streak. That included the final nine games of the Calder Cup Playoffs last season.

He was preparing to return for a third season as coach of the Blue Jackets' AHL team when the Avalanche job suddenly became available. By fate, Fitzsimmons was with him.

When Fitzsimmons took over as coach of South Carolina of the ECHL in 2002, he convinced Bednar to retire from playing and become his assistant. The Native of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, had bounced around for nine pro seasons, playing in the AHL, the now-defunct International Hockey League and the ECHL, but never made it to the NHL.

Fitzsimmons, a former goaltender and teammate of Bednar in South Carolina, described him as "a rough-and-tough, stay-at-home defenseman who stood up for his teammates."

"When I got the job as the head coach in South Carolina, that night, I remember sitting in my office upstairs in my house and I had a to hire an assistant coach and there was absolutely nobody else on my list other than him," Fitzsimmons said. "I knew him and I thought the game the same way."

After Fitzsimmons joined the Capitals scouting staff in 2007, Bednar succeeded him as coach of the Stingrays and guided them to the Kelly Cup championship in 2008-09, his second season. Bednar moved on to spend a season as an assistant with Abbotsford in the AHL and two seasons as coach of Peoria of the AHL.

Although his contract was not renewed with Peoria following the 2011-12 season, he landed on his feet as an assistant with Springfield, then the Blue Jackets' AHL team. When Springfield coach Bard Larsen was promoted to an assistant coaching job with the Blue Jackets in 2014, Bednar replaced him.

Columbus moved its AHL affiliate to Cleveland last season and a championship followed.

"He's just that guy that if he sets his mind to something, he's going to do whatever it takes," Fitzsimmons said. "When he started having success when he became head coach there was no doubt in my mind that he was go a long way in this game."

Sure, Bednar had laughed when Fitzsimmons made that joke about the Avalanche job.

"But I think deep down inside he was hoping he would get the call and Columbus would give him permission," Fitzsimmons said. "I'll guarantee you his preparation for that interview process was thorough."

Bednar's preparation stood out to the Avalanche from the start of training camp. Although he wasn't familiar with many of the Avalanche players and never previously had run an NHL training camp, he quickly earned the players' respect with his attention to detail.

"He didn't come in and seem unprepared or flustered or anything," right wing Jarome Iginla said. "It was just a new coach who was ready."

After the Avalanche failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons under Roy, Bednar implemented a number of systematic changes. The biggest emphasis has been on getting the puck out of the defensive zone quicker.

"It doesn't necessarily have to be a perfect play," Iginla said. "Don't try to be too cute in our zone or it always has to be a nice pass. We're just trying to get it out and go after it."

The Avalanche had some success with that against the Stars and the Penguins, but struggled getting the puck out of their zone against the Capitals.

"There's going to be some growing pains there and there's going to be some things you've got to adapt to," captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "[Tuesday] was a bit of a setback. But I think our group has done a good job of being adaptable to the new system and to the new coaching staff."

The Avalanche have Wednesday off before completing a challenging opening five-game stretch by playing at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; ALT, SUN, NHL.TV) and at the Florida Panthers on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ALT, FS-F, NHL.TV). Bednar said he wants to see his players learn from what went wrong against the Capitals and rebound quickly.

"It's all about our response," he said. "That was a bad night. It was a tough turnaround for our guys, we'll give them a little slack there. But it's all about the response and what we do next game."

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