By Peter Baugh (The Athletic)

TAMPA, Fla. — In 2010, Jon Cooper was in the mix for an American Hockey League job with the Peoria Rivermen. He was coaching the Green Bay Gamblers junior team in the USHL and was ready to make the leap to professional hockey.

But there was a hiccup. The Rivermen, a St. Louis Blues affiliate at the time, didn’t pick him for the job. Instead they went with a longtime ECHL coach who had spent the previous season as an AHL assistant with the Abbotsford Heat: Jared Bednar.

The hiring process marked the first time Cooper’s path intersected with Bednar. It would be far from the last; the two have developed a friendship as they’ve both moved up the coaching ranks and into the NHL, and they went against each other when Bednar’s Avalanche beat Cooper’s Lightning in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. They met again Thursday in Tampa Bay’s 5-0 victory, with a rematch set for Tuesday in Denver. Who knows what would have been different had the Rivermen hired Cooper and not Bednar?

“I’m always like, ‘Wow, I’m glad Bedsy got that job,’” Cooper says.

That’s because, two months after the Rivermen hired Bednar, the Lightning chose Cooper to lead their AHL team, the Norfolk Admirals, beginning what’s been a decade-plus marriage between the coach and the Tampa Bay organization. He became the Lightning’s NHL head coach in 2013 and has led them to two Stanley Cup championships, plus two other Final appearances. He wound up in the right spot.

So, too, did Bednar. He spent two years coaching the Rivermen, only for the Blues to let him go rather than pick up a club option for a third season. So he went to the Blue Jackets organization, where he spent two years as an AHL assistant and two as AHL head coach. He led the Lake Erie Monsters to a Calder Cup in 2015-16, and the Avalanche saw enough to hire him as head coach after Patrick Roy resigned in August 2016.

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