Another sellout anticipated as Connor Bedard comes to the Saddledome
Call it the Connor Bedard boost.
The 17-year-old Regina Pats forward fills arenas in western Canada after his electrifying performance at last month’s World Junior Hockey Championships.
The projected first overall pick in the June NHL draft filled Calgary’s Saddledome Wednesday after junior hockey rinks filled in its last five games.
In anticipation of ticket demand, the Calgary Hitmen expanded sales beyond the usual lower bowl for big junior games to the upper portions of the Saddledome.
Connor Bedard, the presumptive first overall pick in the 2023 NHL draft, draws fans to every building he plays in. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)
A Hitmen spokesman said that by mid-afternoon, 16,700 tickets had been sold for Wednesday night’s game.
The Western Hockey League game, also televised on TSN, featured the largest internal audience of Bedard’s career.
“I’m pretty sure that would be for the best,” Bedard said at a pregame meeting with the media at a downtown Calgary hotel.
“It’s a lot, so it’s exciting for all of us to have that, and I think that’s something you don’t really get tired of.”
Edmonton and Calgary have the two Western Hockey League teams that share an arena with an NHL club.
Bedard’s final Saddledome outing on October 2 drew a crowd of 3,279.
But ever since Bedard broke multiple records and won tournament MVP at the Men’s Junior Championship in Halifax with 23 points in nine games, he’s caused bums at home and away.
There was an uptick in November WHL goals when Bedard and the Pats were in town, but he’s an even hotter ticket now.
Tuesday’s game in Red Deer, Alta. sold out 7,287.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes say there are no more tickets available for Friday’s game at the team’s 5,900-seat building.
Another full house with over 7,000 spectators is forecast at Medicine Hat on Sunday.
“They don’t like you that much on the street, which is fun,” Bedard said. “When you’re home, they’re cheering you on, so you kind of get cheered for that one way or the other.”
Fans in the WHL markets are taking the opportunity to see a future NHL superstar for $15-$30 instead of more than double the price if he’s likely to play in the NHL next season.
Bedard’s 42 goals and 43 assists in 34 games led the WHL with a staggering 2.5 points per game.
Connor Bedard wears the IIHF Championship Cup after overtime victory in Halifax in January. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)
“It seems like there’s a certain level of elite players who are … so bought in, so focused, so ambitious, or with such attention to detail,” said Pats coach and general manager John Paddock, who previously served on the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg the NHL trained jets.
“To me, he is. He can shut out the outside noise for the most part and be himself.
“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 microscope for quite a while but it’s obviously gotten bigger as the stadiums get bigger and he gets a little bit older.”
Bedard, from North Vancouver, BC, hasn’t let up since the World Youth Tournament with 16 goals and eight assists in seven WHL games.
“I think if it’s possible he’s even more focused and determined and he’s committed to playing with us in the playoff games and I think that’s the biggest driver for him right now,” Paddock said.
“That’s what he wants.”
The Pats (22-21-2-1) finished seventh in the Eastern Conference with 19 games remaining in their regular season.
Bedard being held off the scoring charts in the January 26 NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game in Langley, BC – also a sell-off – is unlikely to affect his stocks for the June 28 draft in Nashville, Tenn.
His breakthrough skills in Halifax, competing with and against players two years his senior, cemented his status as a top prospect.
Bedard’s three-dek goal in extra time in a quarter-final win over Slovakia had Canadian fans in the building and at home breathing a sigh of relief and marveling at his ability.
“Being with all these guys who are the best players in the country and playing against the best players in the world always helps,” said the Pats captain.
“You can always learn a lot and I think I’ve succeeded.”
Bedard says at this point in the season his thoughts are more about pursuing the playoffs than having his name first mentioned by an Nashville NHL club.
“That would be something very special. It’s February now. It’s quite a long way away,” he said.
“I’m not thinking about that, but of course it would be pretty cool.”