Jared Bednar, head coach of Stanley Cup winners Colorado Avalanche, is a winner through and through. But Monsters fans already knew that.
The Avalanche beat defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Florida on June 26 to win the series in six games and lift their first trophy since 2001.
The Avs put on a defensive clinic in the scoreless third period, remaining offensively aggressive and controlling the puck without taking any risks. The Lightning went without a shot on target for the first 10 minutes of the final period and only managed four shots on target for the entire 20 minutes.
“It was a huge relief,” Bednar told reporters in an on-ice interview after the game. “I was in disbelief for a while. The guys were already on the ice (celebrating) and it takes a moment or two for it to sink in.
“It’s hard to believe because we’ve been working on this for six years and we’re on a journey with these guys and building the team. And there is a sense of satisfaction.”
Bednar is now part of hockey history. He won the 2009 Kelly Cup as head coach of the East Coast Hockey League’s South Carolina Stingrays and the 2016 Calder Cup as head coach of the team then called the Lake Erie Monsters.
No coach has won championships in the ECHL, AHL and NHL before Bednar.
Not every hockey coach who’s made it to the top of their game has had to struggle through the little ones for as long as Bednar has, but that doesn’t take away from his success in winning three tiers of championships.
Unfortunately for Monsters fans, Bednar only coached one season in Cleveland. But he was actually the team’s head coach for two seasons.
After two years as an assistant coach of the AHL Springfield Falcons, Bednar was named the Falcons’ head coach for the 2014-15 season. The Falcons were the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Monsters were the top farming team in the Avalanche from 2007 through the 2014-15 season.
The AHL made some franchise mixes for 2015-16. The Falcons franchise was moved to Cleveland so the Blue Jackets could have their top farm team closer to Columbus. Falcons players who became Monsters players to help them win the Calder Cup included Josh Anderson, Trent Vogelhuber (now the Monsters head coach), TJ Tynan, Sonny Milano, and goaltenders Anton Forsberg and Joonas corpsalo.
The Monsters set a franchise record with 97 points and then stormed through the playoffs, defeating the Rockford IceHogs in three games in the first round, eliminating Grand Rapids in a best-of-seven in six games, and defeating the Ontario government ( California). in four games and then defeated the Hershey Bears in four games in the AHL Finals to win the Calder Cup. Oliver Bjorktrand broke a 0-0 tie by scoring with 1.9 seconds left to send the sell-out crowd of 19,665, all dressed in white ‘Snow Out’ t-shirts, into a frenzy.
“It means the world for these guys to be able to win the title and be able to win it at home in front of our crowd and this city,” Bednar said. “We won it in front of a city that embraced us. That’s an incredible feeling. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
The celebration on the ice at Quicken Loans Arena that night was very similar to how the Avalanche players celebrated in Tampa — the smiles, the hugs, the tears, the passing of the Calder Cup from one teammate to the next , while the players ran around the rink to the cheers of the fans.
Two days after winning the Calder Cup, the Monsters and their fans celebrated during a party in Plaza Square between The Q and Progressive Field. It wasn’t nearly as big as the save that gave the Cavaliers the NBA championship later that month, or the one the Avalanche will get in Denver, but it was good enough.
Bednar enjoyed the Plaza Square party as much as everyone else. But he was also a little reserved. I remember asking him if something was wrong.
“My work here is done,” he replied, as if already parting ways with the team.
Bednar had reached the top of the ECHL and now the top of the AHL. The NHL beckoned, and on August 25, 2016, Bednar was named head coach of the Avalanche.
The Avalanche were terrible in Bednar’s first season. They won just 22 games and finished with the lowest 48 points in the NHL. But General Manager Joe Sacic, who had chosen Bednar to lead his team, stuck by his choice.
Colorado won 43 games in 2018 but was eliminated in the first round. The Avs were eliminated in the second round in 2019, 2020 and 2021 – underperforming each time – yet Sacic stuck with Bednar. Eventually Bednar rewarded Sacic’s patience with a championship.
Unlike when he won with the monsters, however, Bednar’s work with the Avalanche is not over. Now he’s under pressure to return to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2023.
Bednar has only one accomplishment left – winning a gold medal at the Olympics as head coach of his home country’s Canadian team. Don’t bet against him if he ever gets the chance.