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Jared Bednar finally makes it to NHL

Paid dues in minors before being hired as Avalanche coach

by Rick Sadowski / Correspondent

DENVER -- Once hopeful of reaching the NHL as a player, Jared Bednar eventually came to the realization it wasn't going to happen.

"It was disappointing because you work your whole life as a player in order to play in the NHL," he said. 

After spending 23 seasons in the minor leagues -- 14 as an assistant, six as coach -- Bednar finally has fulfilled that dream. It happened when the Colorado Avalanche hired him as coach Aug. 25, two weeks after Patrick Roy unexpectedly resigned as coach and vice president of hockey operations.

After guiding the Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters to the American Hockey League championship last season, Bednar has inherited a team that lost eight of its final nine games and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second season in a row.

Bednar spent the three weeks leading up to training camp familiarizing himself with his new players by studying volumes of game tape supplied by video coordinator Brett Heimlich. Like a student cramming for finals, he spent countless hours with assistant coaches Tim Army, Dave Farrish and Nolan Pratt, the latter of whom was hired from his Monsters staff on July 15.

"The guys came back early from their summers and we locked ourselves down in the office a little bit, went through a lot of things," said Bednar, 44, who is from Yorkton, Saskatchewan.

A rugged 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman, Bednar wasn't drafted after playing with four Western Hockey League teams in four seasons. He played with an edge and had between 115 and 220 penalty minutes in each of his nine professional seasons with the Huntington Blizzard and South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, Grand Rapids Griffins of the IHL, and Rochester Americans and St. John's Maple Leafs of the AHL.

Bednar's first coaching assignment came in 2002-03 when Stingrays assistant Jason Fitzsimmons, a former teammate, was promoted to coach. He asked Bednar to retire and become his assistant.

Reluctant at first, Bednar accepted. He remained an assistant with the Stingrays for five seasons, became coach in 2007-08 and guided them to the Kelly Cup as ECHL champions in 2009, a trophy he won as team captain in 2001.

"I started coaching and realized how much I love it," Bednar said. "I've been a more dedicated coach than I probably was as a player. It's giving me extra drive as a coach to have success and try to get to the NHL and win the Stanley Cup."

Bednar moved to the AHL as an assistant with the Abbotsford Heat in 2009-10, coach with the Peoria Rivermen the next two seasons and Springfield Falcons assistant from 2012-14. He became Falcons coach in 2014-15, and the franchise was moved to Cleveland before its championship run last season. 

"I love to coach," said Bednar, whose record is 251-158-42. "I didn't know when I was playing how much I would like it, then I started coaching and it's just what I do. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I feel very blessed and privileged to do it, especially at this level. I just feel that's who I am."

Bednar has paid his dues, and there have been plenty of sacrifices along the way. He and his wife, Susan, have two children and the family has often been separated. Home base is Charleston, South Carolina, where Susan and their daughter, Savega, are staying until after the first school semester. The Bednars' son, Kruz, is enrolled in a suburban Denver high school, and will be cared for by Jared's parents and mother-in-law during Avalanche road trips.

Bednar is implementing an aggressive system that emphasizes quick outlet passes, speed and a north-south game to take advantage of skilled forwards like Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. The hope is that Colorado also will improve its puck possession and spend more time on the attack.

"It's going to be quick, it's going to be a fast hockey team," defenseman Tyson Barrie said. "There's going to be no messing around with the puck, no playing around with it in our end, in the neutral zone. We're going to be pushing the pace, getting it into the forwards' hands. We're going to play fast and our defensemen are going to be jumping. I'm super impressed."
Though grateful and excited for the opportunity, Bednar said he barely gave it a second thought after stepping on the ice for the first time as an NHL coach when camp opened.

"As an American League coach you're there every year at training camp," he said. "You're working and you're coaching NHL players, guys that get sent up and down. I'm certainly cognizant that this was my first one, but at that point I'm just focusing on practice.

"No one's going to put any more pressure on me than I put on myself. I'm just going to be me and do the best job I can and make sure I'm doing that every day, coming to the rink with a good attitude and helping to set the tone for our team. I'm just one piece of the puzzle."

A significant one at that.

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