Innisfail’s Ray Bennett still hasn’t grasped the reality of becoming a Stanley Cup champion.
But who can blame the Colorado Avalanche assistant coach? For nearly 130 years, the NHL’s best team has bucked Lord Stanley and won the title of world champion.
There’s a lot of history there and Bennett takes advantage of it while he can.
“It’s pretty awesome, it’s pretty amazing and it’s kind of surreal,” Bennett told the Lawyer.
On June 26, the Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 to win the Stanley Cup Finals in six games.
Colorado has been one of the best in the league all season with the talent any NHL general manager would love to have. Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cale Makar, as well as former Red Deer Rebels goaltender Darcy Kuemper were just the tip of the iceberg as the Colorado squad came together for a championship this season.
“We lost three straight in the second round and we had a 2-0 lead against Vegas the year before and we lost in six and it really stung,” Bennett said.
“I think our group, their determination to do everything they could, understanding that even sometimes when you’re doing everything you can, you know your training is right and your attitude is perfect, that doesn’t guarantee necessarily anything. Right off the bat, our guys decided they were going to do everything in their power to try and push this thing as far as possible, knowing it might not be enough… and that showed throughout of the year. for us.”
With the resilience to overcome adversity, he said the players deserved all the credit for an incredible season.
Colorado had a chance to end the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions at home in Game 5, but lost 3-2. Bennett said it was a disappointing moment for the team and the staff, but he said hoisting the cup no matter where you do it is special.
“It’s quite spectacular and then all day after celebrating with the guys and for the most part as coaches after the night we won it was a conscious effort on our part to let (the players) be and let them do their thing. There were no coaches watching their shoulder, but this parade day was really special,” added Bennett, who said his family’s presence and the parade in Denver were unforgettable moments.
Bennett’s coaching career began at age 17. When he was playing midget hockey in Innisfail, his coach Larry Reid asked him to coach a peewee team in town and Bennett was reluctant. After that, he had a series of training opportunities, including at Red Deer College and the University of Alberta.
He eventually began working full-time with Hockey Alberta while coaching some minor hockey programs in the Red Deer area, which led to him being part of the coaching staff for the Games men’s hockey team. 1991 Canada Winter Championship.
Bennett was an assistant under Mike Babcock at Red Deer College and followed him into the WHL with the Moose Jaw Warriors.
He also served as General Manager of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship when he was in Red Deer and also worked with the Canadian National Team around the same time. He coached the 1998 Canadian women’s Olympic team, which he watches fondly.
While working with Canada’s men’s national team, a member of the coaching staff, Andy Murray got the job as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings and asked Bennett if he wanted to join, which was his introduction to the NHL.
He coached the Kings for six seasons before taking an assistant coaching job with the St. Louis Blues in 2007 and would stay there for 11 seasons. Subsequently, he took a job in the 2017-18 season with the Colorado Avalanche and has been there ever since.
In those early days, it never occurred to him that one day he might coach in the NHL until he got the job offer from the Kings.
“I don’t know if people believe me when I say that. Honestly, I never looked for a job when I got my next job until I got to the NHL,” he said.
“You know you get fired and then you have to watch, but there was never a time when I thought I had to hurry up and take the next step here. I was always trying to stay in the present moment and to do a good job wherever I am.
When he was offered the job in Los Angeles, he and his wife thought about how they would fit in in Los Angeles. They were prairie people who grew up in central Alberta, but it turned out to be a great experience.
“As a non-NHL player, young coaches ask ‘how do you do it?’ and they always seem so eager to move up the ladder and sometimes it happens,” he said.
“But inevitably, I feel like there are an awful lot of very good young coaches who rise very fast but fall even faster, so their dreams could be shattered. For me, patience is a virtue there.
He attributes much of what he learned as a coach to the small opportunities in places like Red Deer and Innisfail. A big part of that was the relationships forged with people who took the time to help a young coach.
“Every experience I’ve had as a coach, whether it’s the bantam AA team in Red Deer or a bantam AAA team. These are all valuable experiences,” he said.
“If you treat them as such and continue to learn for yourself and know again, I think it’s really important to be present in the moment, just like our players have been all along. This year.”