Eight years. This is how long Jared Bednar lived away from his wife and two children to chase a dream of being an NHL head coach, an objective he openly admits he would have not reached without their sacrifices.
Charleston, South Carolina is not the expected setting for a hockey coach’s origin story. But it is for Bednar and his family. He was a career minor-league defenseman who spent chunks of six seasons playing for the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL until he transitioned into coaching.
The five years as an assistant and his two years as a head coach laid the foundation for Bednar wanting to become an NHL head coach. Doing that meant moving. It was something he did as the son of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer throughout his youth. But he wanted his children to primarily live in one place.
“I knew I wanted to do this for a living and I knew that if I was in, I’m all in and I want to pursue it and get to the highest level I possibly could and hopefully one day coach in the NHL and win a Stanley Cup. That was my goal,” Bednar said. “I knew I was going to have to make a move. The kids were getting to the age where they were getting involved in sports and we had been there for such a long time. … We knew South Carolina was probably going to be home permanently and I didn’t want to uproot my family and leave that.
“My wife and I decided that I was going to go on my own.”
He returned to Charleston during the offseason from varying destinations that saw him travel all throughout North America.
One year in Abbotsford, British Columbia as an AHL assistant. Two years in Peoria, Illinois as an AHL head coach. A total of three years in Springfield, Massachusetts with one more year in Cleveland was Bednar’s path until he was hired as the seventh coach in the Colorado Avalanche’s history.
Being Bednar has its advantages these days. He has this calm, almost Zen-like presence behind the bench and wears the sort of suits that are illustrative of his chill persona. Then there’s the on-ice element. Right now? Bednar is in charge of the NHL’s lone undefeated team that also happens to feature the youngest roster in the league.
All of this is coming in a season that began with the belief the Avalanche could immediately challenge for the Stanley Cup whereas Bednar could be in contention for the Jack Adams Award.
This is the scenario Bednar has sought for several years while also hoping for another.
Bednar along with his wife, Susan, and their daughter, Savega, are finally living together in Denver while their son, Kruz, is back in South Carolina attending college as a sophomore. This means the 47-year-old can have family dinners, explore Denver and watch his daughter, a competitive swimmer vying to make the varsity team as a freshman at Cherry Creek High School.
And when hockey isn’t being played, they can take trips together. Like the massive family vacation they took this summer to Italy.
“That is the most important thing to me: It is family and friendships,” Bednar said. “It’s not lost on me the sacrifices that were made to get me there. Whether it was my parents, my brother and sister when I was traveling to tournaments. Or my wife and kids. Everyone has sacrificed for me to get here and it’s really important to me that everyone enjoys that.”
Bednar was playing in the ECHL with the Huntington Blizzard in West Virginia and at dinner with a few of his teammates when he noticed a woman who was working at the restaurant.
He got a chance to talk to her and asked if she wanted to attend the Blizzard’s year-end team banquet as his date. She said yes and then he left for four months to go back home.
Don’t worry. They kept in touch long enough for Bednar to tell the story of how he met his wife.
“I’ve been with her ever since,” he said. “Eventually, we ended up down in South Carolina via trade and had our kids down there and that became home.”
Kruz was playing baseball while Savega was immersed in swimming. As for Susan? She was raising both children and managing up to 10 or so of the couple’s rental properties while Jared was away.
“She really did all the heavy lifting. I just took off and went to coach,” Bednar said. “So that support that I got from her and from my family has been amazing. I would not be here without it, you know?”
Handling the distance was initially hard but there were ways the family worked through it such as when he was an assistant with the Abbotsford Flames, Calgary’s AHL affiliate. He said the Flames organization would fly his family from Charleston to see him.
Darryl Sutter, who was the Flames’ general manager at the time, would ask Bednar about his family whenever they saw each other because Sutter went through the same thing with his family, Bednar said.
Going to Peoria, he said with a laugh, was an easier trek compared to Abbotsford considering it was closer to Charleston.
“Jared and Susan have a really strong relationship,” said Jared’s mother, Yvonne. “I don’t think he ever missed a day when he did not FaceTime them or talk to them for probably a couple hours a day for most days. They just made it work. I know it was difficult and all of them would have preferred being together. But if there were any long weekends or time when the team was anywhere close to South Carolina, they would go to the game and spend time with him.”
Bednar said it was a “no-brainer” for everyone to be together once he accepted the job with the Avalanche. Kruz was the first to move with Wally and Yvonne coming down to help wherever they could. Susan and Savega moved from Charleston a few months later so she could finish her first semester before transitioning to another school in Denver.
That was two-and-a-half years ago.
What’s all that like to go through? What is it like to be a father who wishes he could have been around for more of his children’s games and practices along with other events? How much of that runs through your mind when you’re bouncing around the AHL?
“It’s tough. You miss your kids growing up,” Bednar said. “My son now is in his second year of college. His teenage years (he) was into baseball and you miss a lot of that. Lot of that does happen in the summer. The parenting that they are missing out on and your family being together. I honestly feel bad and felt bad for my wife because she really did all the work. So she had some help from my mother-in-law, who moved and lived with us part time when we were there.
“It probably wasn’t real fair as a grandparent to help parent our kids but that certainly made a big difference for my wife and for myself knowing that there was another adult around. … To get to this level and be rewarded for that sacrifice feels really good because now our family can come back together and enjoy life in the NHL and some of the perks that come along with that.”
Jared, Susan, Kruz and Savega usually go back to Canada during the offseason to see family. Wally and Yvonne have a home in Saskatchewan while Jared’s siblings are in Alberta. That leads to them taking quite a few trips to places such as extremely scenic Banff National Park.
Or Wally and Yvonne will come to Denver during Christmas so they can spend the holidays together.
“Now, traveling in the NHL, they are close to some of the NHL cities,” Bednar said of seeing his parents and siblings. “I’ll see them in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg. I can usually catch up with family. I feel like since the move to Denver, I am seeing my family more than I had in years past. Especially, my mom and dad, brother and sister. That part is good.”
Having the chance to see his family at home or on the road has provided Bednar with a balance away from hockey. That is what makes those offseason trips to Canada or back to South Carolina really important given the demanding nature of an NHL season.
Think about it like this.
Bednar and his coaching staff commence training camp in September. The regular season runs from October into early April. Then comes the playoffs. The Avalanche went two rounds and nearly reached the Western Conference semifinal. But guess what? It doesn’t mean a coach’s work is done.
They still have to be involved with the NHL Entry Draft in late June and the ensuing development camp for the players they just drafted and their prospects from previous drafts. They are also involved in the free-agent frenzy that officially opens on July 1.
Only to turn around and start preparing in August for another season.
“Coaches don’t get away as much as you might think because you’re coming in early to get ready for the season,” he said. “This year, we wanted to get our family together. My brother, his family and my family took my mom and dad and aunt and we went out to Italy for a couple weeks.”
Altogether? It amounted to 10 members of the Bednar clan roaming throughout Italy.
“It was absolutely wonderful. I don’t suppose we will ever do anything quite like that again,” Yvonne said. “It was an amazing trip. (Bednar’s brother Jason) did the planning and everything was just the best. It was small group tours of different places and it was just amazing. Of course, just to go there and see the Vatican and (St. Peter’s Basilica). We did a tour of Florence and that was also amazing.”
They did all this before the draft in Vancouver and the team’s development camp a week later.
Once all that along with free agency ended, the Bednar’s returned to South Carolina for the rest of the summer before going back to Denver.
“Life has been good,” Bednar said. “It is such a privilege to be able to coach the best players in the world and coach at the highest level in the National Hockey League. It takes a lot of work and commitment but it’s something I really enjoy. It’s a blessing to be able to continue to do this.”
And then there’s what Yvonne had to say about watching her son and his family reach this stage in their lives.
“It’s just … to see his dream being fulfilled. … It’s amazing,” Yvonne said as her voice started to tremble and she began tearing up. “He decided a long time ago he was going to be an NHL coach. It’s just been an unreal journey for him and for us to see that happen. It is a lot of work on his part and a lot of sacrifice on his part and on his family. It’s worked out. He just seems to have the talent and the ability to get along with his players and coaches. It’s just meant to be.”