(Denver) In a final that pits so many spectacular players against one another, features the best goaltender in the world and one team scores a hat-trick, it’s only fitting that we talk less about the Avalanche head coach from Colorado. Especially since he doesn’t have the charisma of his counterpart Jon Cooper in front of the camera.
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But Jared Bednar has a chance to make history this week. In fact, he’s just two wins away from becoming the first-ever head coach to win the Kelly Cup (ECHL), the Calder Cup (American League), and the Stanley Cup.
“I didn’t know that,” admitted defense attorney Jack Johnson, amused. It’s pretty cool that he got this chance. That says a lot about his level of knowledge and ability to get the best out of his players. »
All bus trips are unique. What made Bednar special was that he didn’t have to go through the junior or university circuits. He was captain of the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL) when he became that team’s assistant coach in the summer of 2002 at the age of 30. Since then he has only improved.
Masters in South Carolina
Pierre-Luc O’Brien’s camera lights up and he has a big smile, happy to talk about “Bedzy,” who he remained friends with after playing for him in South Carolina from 2007-2009. Not close enough to talk to each other every day, but close enough to have dinner together when the avalanche lands in Montreal.
When O’Brien joined the Stingrays, Bednar had just been promoted to head coach.
“Bedzy is the happy middle. He’s a player-coach but capable of being serious when needed. He’s direct, he doesn’t play behind the boys’ backs,” said O’Brien, a forward for Nicolet who was never drafted into the NHL but played five years pro after four seasons in the NCAA.
“In the ECHL we sometimes sleep on the bus, especially when we’re playing three games in three nights. The guys played cards, ate sunflower seeds and we saw him on the laptop until 3am to release music videos for us. He’s a guy from Saskatchewan. Have you ever known prairie boys? It works out! »
“It was a 2-3-2 format and we started there, O’Brien recalls. We come home 1-1 and we win games 3 and 4. We think we’ll win at home, we’re sure we won’t be flying back to Alaska for 17 hours. But we lose game 5 in overtime! »
Alaska also wins Game 6, so the final requires Game 7.
“On the morning of Game 7 we were walking in a park, the whole team, we sat down and he gave us a crazy speech. I don’t remember what he said, but we had tears in our eyes.
“Then he took apart my line, Trent Campbell, Jeff Corey and me. “I need a big game from the three of you, but not just defensively. You have to be on the score sheet.” »
O’Brien finished the game with the insurance goal in an empty net and an assist for Campbell’s goal. The Stingrays won 4-2. First championship for Bednar.
Masters in Cleveland
This title gives Bednar access to the American League, where he finds himself as an assistant with the Springfield Falcons before becoming the head coach of that formation, then a subsidiary of the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was here that former Canadian Michael Chaput met him. His description bears a striking resemblance to O’Brien’s.
“I really liked Jared. He is player-coach. All players love it. He’s not hiding anything, he’s not playing a little mind game with you. If he has something to say to you, he will say it. Everything is in black and white,” describes Chaput.
The club moved to Cleveland in 2015 and became the Lake Erie Monsters. The team is playing a good season (6e in the standings), but becomes downright unbeatable in the playoffs. The addition of Zach Werenski, fresh out of the university ranks, doesn’t hurt.
The Monsters win their first-round series, take a 3-0 lead over Grand Rapids in the second round, eventually win in the sixties, then defeat Ontario in the semifinals and Hershey in the finals. Fifteen wins and only two losses.
In such a course, however, there are fewer stories of epic speeches to tell!
“We were just so well prepared,” said Chaput. We hadn’t been healthy all season, we had guys up there in Columbus. In the end we finally had our complete team. We were so well prepared and the boys wanted to play for each other. »
Second championship for Bednar.
Bednar is now just two wins away from an unlikely hat-trick. Unlikely because his journey to Colorado wasn’t easy.
Everyone remembers the unexpected departure of Patrick Roy in August 2016. It was Bednar who was hired in a disaster two months after winning the Calder Cup to reach the NHL in less than ideal conditions. It ended in a disastrous season of 22 wins in 82 games.
Then came the rumors of a disagreement between him and Nathan MacKinnon, rumors particularly fueled by a heated exchange of blows on the bench during a game.
O’Brien sat down with Bednar in the days after the incident. “He said, ‘That’s what happens to star players. He will lose his mark, but it will pass. He has the interpersonal skills to relate to men. There aren’t just X’s and O’s for a trainer.
“When things weren’t going so well, he didn’t feel the pressure. He said: “This is the big league. I’m doing my best, but if they don’t renew my contract, this is my life. It’s never a disaster with him. »
If he ends up winning the Stanley Cup, it will be a few years before he even considers a contract extension.