Bednar appreciates patience shown by Avalanche along bumpy road to Cup

TAMPA– Jared Bednar’s instinct was to keep training until the clock ran out.

As the Colorado Avalanche players began celebrating on the bench in the dying seconds of their 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals Sunday, Bednar tried to keep them focused.

“I was as nervous as I could be,” Bednar said. “I didn’t even know when it was over. I see the guys on the bench starting to celebrate and I looked up and I was like, ‘There’s seven seconds left. That’s the kind of intensity we had there.”

As the last horn sounded and the players jumped onto the ice, there was a group hug from Bednar, his assistants and the coaching staff. That’s when emotions started to get to him.

“There was a lot of relief,” Bednar said. “I was in disbelief for a while. The guys have been on the ice before, but it takes a moment or two to settle in. Even when we were on the ice it’s just hard to believe because you’ve been working for it, well for me for six years and on a journey with these guys and building our team.”

That journey got off to a rocky start in 2016/17 after Bednar was hired less than a month before training camp was due to start after Patrick Roy unexpectedly decided to step down as coach. Colorado went 22-56-4 and finished with the worst 48 points in the NHL to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight year.

In his first NHL job, Bednar realized that his coaching journey, which began as an assistant at the ECHL in South Carolina in 2002, could have ended back then if Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic and owner Stan Kroenke had been impatient.

“I have to thank Joe and our ownership group for trusting me that I could be a guy who could help us win and for holding on to me and being patient and giving me the opportunity to come back after this year” said Bednar. “It’s often not a forgiving league.

“Then it just built up from there.”

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Colorado went 43-30-9 and qualified for the playoffs the following season. In late 2020-21, the Avalanche were Presidents’ Trophy winners as the top team in the NHL during the regular season, but lost in the second round of the playoffs for a third straight season.

Again, there were questions as to whether Bednar could bring Colorado over the hill to win its first championship since 2001. But these were all answered with the Avalanche dethroning the Lightning, who had won the Stanley Cup for the past two seasons.

“That [2016-17] was rock bottom from an NHL perspective and we didn’t think we were going to be here, certainly not in five or six years or whatever,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “It just goes to show that management has been patient with Jared. They have been patient with us. They didn’t blow things up after a second-round exit for the third year in a row. They kept believing in us.”

Landeskog is part of the Avalanche core that stayed with forwards from 2016-17 Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and JT Compherand defender Eric Johnson. Taking a tougher path with this group made Bednar appreciate it more as he ended up winning the trophy.

“That’s the thing,” Bednar said. “It’s really satisfying because it’s been a tough year and we’ve built up since then and there’s a lot of heartbreak and a lot of good times along the way. To be able to do it with these guys there are so many guys here were with me when I first started as a rookie coach. And to be able to break in with me as a group, Joe, his staff, my staff and all the players that have been involved in that, it’s a long journey and there’s a huge sense of satisfaction there.”

Championships are nothing new to Bednar. He coached South Carolina to the 2009 ECHL Kelly Cup and Lake Erie to the 2016 American Hockey League Calder Cup.

Now the 50-year-old former journeyman defenseman, who played nine seasons as professionals in the AHL, the now-defunct International Hockey League and the ECHL but never made it to the NHL as a player, is the first coach to win the Kelly Cup hat , Calder Cup and Stanley Cup.

“He’s so proud of what he does and he prepares for it every day,” Sakic said. “I’m so proud of him, him and all the staff. I’ve been trying to get better every day for five years, systems and all that. I could never coach. You invest way too much time. It’s long hours. To see him rewarded is something special. He’s a great person, a great coach and the players believe in him.”

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