John Bednarski is enshrined in the Amerks’ Hall of Fame for his role as a defenseman, color commentator and humanitarian. The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native played two seasons with the Amerks (1972-73, 1980-81), served as the team's radio and television color commentator for 20 years (1985-2005) and helped establish multiple fundraising events for local charities.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY FROM PLAYING IN ROCHESTER?
The solid crowds we used to draw. My first year (1972-73) was when Don Cherry was coach and the team was just coming off a bad few years as the Vancouver Canucks farm team. The crowds were sparse then, and then about two weeks into my first season after the way they saw us play, it was just amazing. You couldn’t buy a ticket or find a seat in the War Memorial.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT PLAYING HERE?
The guys that I played with, guys like ‘Battleship’ (Bob) Kelly, Barry Merrell, Dave Hrechkosy, Guy Burrowes, all these guys I played with. I think that’s the lasting memory. And my coach. Don Cherry was my coach. I put that as No. 1 on my list because if it wasn’t for Don Cherry and the way he handled me, I don’t think I would have had the career I had.
WHAT WAS THE ATMOSPHERE LIKE AT THE WAR MEMORIAL BACK THEN?
It was great. Like I said, after the first couple weeks and the fans started to see how we played, we were Don Cherry’s lunch pail group. That’s what he called us; we were his lunch pail group. It really caught on and it was exciting, it was very exciting.
WHAT DID YOUR TIME WITH THE AMERKS MEAN TO YOU?
It was like I died and went to heaven! Coming off a junior career where I wasn’t really playing that well and not getting drafted, it was a tough time for me. And then coming to the Amerks, and meeting the people, and how accepting they were of us and of me and the guys on the team, it was one of those situations where it only happens once in a lifetime, and for me, that was it.
YOU STARTED HERE IN 1972-73 AS A ROOKIE AND CAME BACK EIGHT YEARS LATER FOLLOWING A STINT IN THE NHL. WHAT ULTIMATELY LED YOU BACK TO ROCHESTER?
I was at the end of my career and Rochester was going to be my home. My kids were born in Rochester and I wanted to finish off my career in Rochester because that’s where I started. I felt like I owed something back to the community and I was hoping I would be able to do that by playing some good hockey. I had left, but I loved the community. It was a great place to bring up your kids, it was a great place to play and I had a ton of friends there.
YOU SPENT SEVERAL YEARS ON THE AMERKS BROADCAST TEAM FOLLOWING YOUR CAREER AS A PLAYER. WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE?
The thing about what happened with me and how I transitioned into broadcasting is just another reason why I feel so fortunate. You hear a lot of how players play and then all of a sudden they’re not part of the game anymore. In my new role, to me, it was like I was coming to the arena and I still felt like I was involved in the game. I’m talking hockey, doing this, doing that, going into the locker room to talk to players. So my transition from being a player into the business world or working world was a lot easier because of those steps.
DURING YOUR TIME IN ROCHESTER YOU WERE KNOWN FOR ALL OF YOUR PHILANTHROPIC WORK, SPECIFICALLY YOUR ANNUAL CYSTIC FIBROSIS GOLF TOURNAMENT. WHAT LED YOU INTO BECOMING SUCH AN ACTIVE MEMBER OF THE LOCAL COMMUNITY?
A real good friend of mine, Ken Bond, was actually on the board of the Rochester Americans and was very involved with Rochester and some of the owners. After I retired, we were going to different charity golf tournaments and we wanted to keep the Amerks name going on during the summer when hockey normally fizzles out. He called me up one day saying they were thinking of organizing a golf tournament for the local Cystic Fibrosis chapter and wanted to put my name on it. So that’s how the annual golf tournament really all started and we stayed with it for more than 20 years. It was a lot of fun and it was for a great cause.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO IN RECENT YEARS?
I’m retired, but watching a lot of hockey and following the Amerks as much as I can. That and playing a lot of golf.