(Denver) In a final that pits so many spectacular players against each other, features the best goalkeeper in the world and where a team is looking for a hat-trick, it’s only fitting that we talk less about the Colorado Avalanche head coach. Especially since in front of the cameras he doesn’t have the charisma of his vis-à-vis, Jon Cooper.
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But Jared Bednar has a chance to make history this week. In fact, he is two wins away from becoming the first head coach to win the Kelly Cup (ECHL), the Calder Cup (American League) and the Stanley Cup.
“I didn’t know that,” defenseman Jack Johnson admitted, amused. It’s great that he got that opportunity. That says a lot about his level of knowledge and his ability to get the most out of his players. »
All coach trips are unique. The peculiarity of Bednar’s: he did not have to go through the junior or university circuits. He was captain of the South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL) when, in the summer of 2002, at age 30, he became an assistant coach for that team. He has only gotten better since then.
Champion in South Carolina
Pierre-Luc O’Brien’s camera turns on and he has a big smile, happy to talk about “Bedzy”, with whom he remained friends after playing for him from 2007 to 2009 in South Carolina. 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 came to the Stingrays, Bednar had just been promoted to head coach.
“Bedzy is the happy medium. He is a player coach, but capable of being serious when necessary. He’s direct, he doesn’t play behind guys’ backs,” says O’Brien, a Nicolet forward who was never drafted into the NHL but played five years as a pro after four seasons in the NCAA.
“In the ECHL, sometimes we sleep on the bus, especially when we play three games in three nights. The guys played cards, ate sunflower seeds, and watched it on the laptop until 3am to release music videos for us. He is a boy from Saskatchewan. Have you ever met any prairie boys? Works! »
“It was a 2-3-2 format and that’s where we started, recalls O’Brien. We came home 1-1 and won games 3 and 4. We think we’ll win at home, we’re sure we won’t be flying back to Alaska for another 17 hours. But we lose game 5 in overtime! »
Alaska also wins Game 6, so the Finals require Game 7.
“The morning of game 7, we went for a walk 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 separated my line, Trent Campbell, Jeff Corey and myself. “I need a great game from the three of you, but not just defensively. You have to be on the list.” »
O’Brien finished the match with the insurance goal on empty net, and an assist on Campbell’s goal. The Stingrays won 4-2. First championship for Bednar.
Champion in Cleveland
This title allows Bednar to access the American League, where he is as an assistant for the Springfield Falcons, before becoming head coach of this formation, then an affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. This was where he met former Canadian Michael Chaput. The description of him bears a striking resemblance to that made by O’Brien.
“I really liked Jared. He is a player coach. All players love it. He is not hiding anything, he is not playing a little psychological game with you. If he has something to say to you, he will say it. Everything is black on white”, describes Chaput.
The club moved to Cleveland in 2015 and became the Lake Erie Monsters. The team is having a good season (6me in the general classification), but becomes frankly unbeatable in the playoffs. The addition of Zach Werenski, fresh from the college ranks, doesn’t hurt.
The Monsters snap their first-round streak, take a 3-0 lead in the second round against Grand Rapids, eventually win in six, then sweep Ontario in the semifinals and Hershey in the final. Fifteen wins and only two losses.
With such a course, on the other hand, there are fewer epic speech stories to tell!
“We were so well prepared,” Chaput said. We hadn’t been healthy all season, we had guys back in Columbus. In the end, we finally had our full team. We were very 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 treble. Unlikely because his trip to Colorado was not 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 come to the NHL in less than optimal condition. He ended with a disastrous season of 22 wins in 82 games.
Then came the rumors of a disagreement between him and Nathan MacKinnon, rumors fueled in particular by a heated exchange on the bench during a match.
O’Brien sat down with Bednar in the days after the incident. “He said: ‘It happens with star players. He will miss the mark on him, but he will pass. He has the interpersonal skills to develop a relationship with the guys. It’s not just about X’s and O’s for a coach.
“When things weren’t going so well, I didn’t feel the pressure. He was like, ‘It’s the big league. I’m doing my best, but if they don’t renew my contract, that’s life. It’s never a mess with him. »
If he ends up lifting the Stanley Cup, it will be a few years before his contract renewal is considered.