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Stu Cowan: Avalanche s Nathan MacKinnon teaches lesson on transparency

Stu Cowan: Avalanche s Nathan MacKinnon teaches lesson on transparency
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Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon, left, is congratulated after scoring a goal by defenceman Tyson Barrie. MacKinnon deftly handled a mild controversy he started by lashing out at his coach during a game this week. David Zalubowski / Associated Press

On Friday, the Colorado Avalanche gave the other 30 teams in the NHL a lesson in how to handle a controversial situation.

It was the definition of transparency.

In the dying seconds of a 5-3 loss to the Flames on Wednesday night in Calgary, TV cameras caught Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon screaming at head coach Jared Bednar on the bench — appearing to say: “Do your job!” — and throwing a water bottle before being restrained by captain Gabriel Landeskog and falling off the back of the bench.

The Avalanche practised Friday morning at the Bell Centre and with the Canadiens taking the day off before Saturday’s game against Colorado (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio) that meant there was a lot of media there. MacKinnon didn’t try to avoid the media, instead entering the locker room after practice with a big smile on his face.

“Hey, what’s going on?,” he said before laughing and adding: “What do you guys want to talk about, eh?”

MacKinnon then proceeded to answer every question thoughtfully and honestly for five minutes. He explained he was upset with Bednar’s decision to wait so long to pull goalie Semyon Varlamov for an extra attacker before Mikko Rantanen scored with 38 seconds left to cut the Flames’ lead to 4-3. The Flames then got an empty-net goal by Matthew Tkachuk with 10 seconds left to wrap things up.

“That’s unacceptable on my part,” MacKinnon said about his actions. “I can’t be doing that stuff. Just frustrating … I think we’ve lost eight of nine (games). I think Tkachuk just scored an empty-netter … I was just really frustrated. But, I mean, I love playing for Bedsy … everyone loves playing for Bedsy in here. That’s on me and I take responsibility for it.

“I just thought the goalie should have been pulled and he didn’t,” added MacKinnon, who has 26-40-66 totals in 44 games. “That’s all it was. It was just stupid. I was just taking my frustrations out on that. Just about the goalie being pulled. That’s it. …. We spoke after the game. Bedsy’s the least sensitive guy ever, so it’s all good. I don’t know if you already talked to him, but he’s fine. I’m obviously fine.”

Bednar spoke with the media after MacKinnon.

“To me, it didn’t bother me at all,” the coach said. “That’s what I love about Nathan and about certain guys on our team is the fire and passion and emotion that they play with and that they have. Because that’s what you need in this game. I think it’s an important part of the game and that’s what makes him so good, so I never want to curb that. My job as a coach is just to make sure that we’re driving that emotion and that passion and that energy into the right places and focusing it on the right place and we’re doing it in a positive way and that will lead to winning. To me, I forgot about it by the time we went down the tunnel. I thought we should chat about it and we did and we’re good.”

As a team, the Avalanche haven’t been very good recently, going 1-6-2 in their last nine games. MacKinnon said the recent slump also played a role in his blowup on the bench.

“I think everyone was frustrated,” he said. “I was just the only one that did that. So no excuses. Everyone wants to win in here, everyone’s competitive. Everybody wants to win as bad as I do. But they obviously channelled it better than I did. I definitely can’t be losing my temper and treating the coach like that.

“I mean, arguments happen, it’s the NHL,” MacKinnon added. “Guys are competitive. We want to win around here and, obviously, we haven’t been doing that lately. But it’s just unfortunate it got caught on camera. I saw it after the Calgary game. I was pretty rattled in my hotel room, just looking like an idiot, screaming. That can’t happen again, so I’ll be better from it.”

What’s his relationship with Bednar like now?

“It’s great,” MacKinnon said. “We’re really close. I think that’s part of the reason why I feel like I can — not do that — but I can express my opinions in a more calm way and more respectful way. He’s a player’s coach. Bedsy’s a very personable guy and everyone loves playing for him and I really enjoy playing for him.

“It’s all good,” MacKinnon added. “It was all good 20 minutes after the game. Like I said, it’s on me. It’s just about the goalie being pulled. It’s just funny that I looked like a madman. But I feel bad for it, for sure.”
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