Connor Bedard composed on- and off-ice in thrilling hockey fans

Connor Bedard composed on- and off-ice in thrilling hockey fans

Breadcrumb Trail Links Sports Hockey Regina Pats Connor Bedard meets Calgary Hitmen Goalie Brayden Peters in a shoot-out for the 6-5 win at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Wednesday February 1, 2023. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk/ DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia Content of the article

Connor Bedard stood his ground Wednesday and, like a seasoned pro, answered a variety of questions from the Calgary media.

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Of course, he’s not one yet — that adventure no doubt begins next year as the predicted consensus top pick in the 2023 NHL draft — but he’s talking the talk as well as the skates.

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Yes… the 17-year-old prodigy is calm, cool and collected…

On and off the ice.

“Connor, how is it playing to packed houses every night?”

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“Connor, where do you think you can improve your game?”

“Connor, what would it mean to be the overall pick of the 2023 NHL draft?”

“You’re asking a lot of people across the league, and everyone wants that,” Bedard said of the draft query. “Of course that would be something very special. It’s pretty far away at the moment, so I’m not thinking about it. But of course it would be pretty cool.

“Obviously it’s a big year…” he continued. “When you’re in the moment, it’s not something you think about too much. You’re just trying to play I’m just trying to take it day by day and focus on the present and not think too much about the future.”

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His future is all that most people around him are talking about.

Connor Bedard of Regina Pats speaks to the media in Calgary prior to a game against the Calgary Hitmen Wednesday, February 1, 2023. Jim Wells/Postmedia Jim Wells/Postmedia

Not difficult when he seems to be the next kid not to be missed, the next generation of talent.

At such a young age, Bedard is already being compared to Wayne and Mario and the “other Connor”.

A total of 17,223 hockey fans — about 600 more than at the annual Teddy Bear Toss — packed the Scotiabank Saddledome to see that kind of talent firsthand on Wednesday night, when Bedard and the Regina Pats came to town to play the host Calgary Hitmen.

“It seems like there’s a certain level of elite players who are…so bought, so focused, so ambitious, or with such attention to detail,” said John Paddock, Pats GM/head coach, a former NHL bench boss. “For me, he is. He’s able to block out most of the outside noise and be himself.

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“I see him every day. The best way to say it is that there’s no indication he won’t be what everyone’s talking about. He’s been under the scrutiny for quite a while but it’s obviously bigger grown as the stadiums get bigger and he gets a little bit older.”

And he’s getting better…

Especially during the holidays, where he held a clinic against the world’s top puck phenomena. And now back to the WHL where he’s absolutely ripped these days.

“When you’re with all these guys – obviously the best players in the world – it always helps because there’s so much to learn, whether it’s on the ice or off the ice,” Bedard said of his experience with the world’s juniors. “You can always learn a lot, and I think I succeeded.

“You see these guys and what they can do and you play with them. You can always learn something and I think that was good for my game.”

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His stats since then confirm that.

Coming to the Dome, Bedard has a staggering 16 goals and 24 points in his seven games since returning from leading Canada to gold at the World Juniors.

Overall, the North Vancouver, BC native had 88 points, including 43 goals, in 35 games during the WHL season. The only game he didn’t score in was the very first of the schedule.

He added to that on Wednesday against the Hitmen with a goal and an assist in a crucial 6-5 shootout win for the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoff race. Of course, it was Bedard with the shootout winner after a key assist late in regulation with the exploits for the Pats in seventh place (23-21-1-1) that put them within four points to sixth place Hitmen ( 23- 17-5-2) in the overall standings.

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The fans in attendance were intent on eyeing Bedard when they weren’t celebrating goals.

Bedard did his best to keep up with his usual array of pretty passes and dekes and dangles, including one that Hitmen goaltender Brayden Peters stopped to thwart a second-period result. The solid goalkeeper also countered the phenomenon in extra time with gloved hands. But he got the tender with a sweet forehand-backhand-forehand move for the penalty shootout’s only goal.

In fact, Bedard got the crowd singing his praises with “ooohs” and “awwws.”

His brilliance paid off in the first frame as he pulled the pats across from the bottom of the right circle with a laser beam bracelet on the top corner. It was a beauty destination that caused a huge outcry from the excited crowd. Then came late heroism with a shot – after showing patience – that led to a last-minute scramble for the decisive goal. And finally the winner of the penalty shootout.

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And he seemed dangerous every time he touched the puck, although the hitmen did a good job defensively to limit him to two points that night — a rarity these days, to be sure.

“I think if it’s possible he’ll be even more focused,” Paddock said with a chuckle. “He’s determined to play a playoff game for us. That’s the biggest drive for him at the moment.”

That and a Great One/Next One feeling of constantly trying to improve his game while trying to be the next great leader.

“We still have a lot of games to play,” said Bedard, who is one of the few 17-year-old captains in the junior ranks. “It’s a pretty close race for those few spots in the playoffs and we have a lot to focus on. And for me personally I have to prove myself – that’s kind of my mentality. Take it day by day and try to improve every game.”

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Oh really?

“You can say it’s everything,” Bedard continued when asked what areas he might need improvement in. “But for me it’s a complete game and becoming a guy you can trust in all situations. I think that’s something you can learn a little bit with experience.”

The atmosphere in the crowded Dome, the most people he’s ever played in front of at a game? Well… that helped.

“It was great for our whole group – we had a lot of fun with the sold out crowd and the energy,” said Bedard. “You feel it and you hear it and it brings extra energy into you. They obviously don’t like you that much on the street, which is fun. And at home they cheer you on. In any case, you will be cheered for it.”

Yes…it’s fun, even if he’s in the hot seat.

“It was pretty crazy you guys bugging me all the time,” Bedard added with a chuckle to the media crowd. “No…it’s a lot of fun, I think, when people want to talk to me. I’m just a guy who wants to play hockey and it’s pretty cool if you guys ask me questions.”

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