Sport
The next Connor: hockey’s latest phenomenon has gone a long way to find a pandemic game

The next Connor: hockey’s latest phenomenon has gone a long way to find a pandemic game

Mélanie Bédard could not sleep.

It was 4 a.m. and her two children – Connor and Madisen, aged 15 and 17 – were flying to Sweden in two days.

In the midst of a pandemic.

“I sat down and thought, ‘I don’t think I can do this,’ ‘she recalls. “You think if something’s going on and you’re so far away.”

Connor Bedard, the first player to achieve exceptional status to enter the Western Hockey League a year earlier and considered the likely first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, had already seen his first junior season. put on ice by COVID-19.

The prodigious talent of North Vancouver, B.C. needed a place to train and play, and Madisen, whose first year of college was limited to online courses, could do his schoolwork from n ‘. anywhere in the world. So the family decided the duo would board a plane to Europe in the fall as Connor, the No. 1 overall selection for the WHL Regina Pats, pursued his hockey dream with Swedish club HV71.

Mélanie, like any mother, had reservations.

But those fears were allayed when an unexpected text message arrived from a coach who was working with Connor – he was good friends with the assistant coach the teens reportedly living with in Jonkoping, a town around 300 minutes away. kilometers southwest of Stockholm.

“It was like, ‘OK, that’s a sign,’ said Melanie, who welcomes international students to the family home with her husband, Tom, and knows a thing or two about worried parents. “I could have made them leave anyway, but I was just having trouble replaying all of these scenarios.”

“ Too good ” for the U18s in Sweden

With the blessing of the Pats and the WHL, this trip to Sweden was just the first stop on a long, winding road that Connor Bédard has taken during this pandemic season to quench an insatiable thirst for the game he loves.

“New country, new style of play,” he said of his two months abroad in an interview with The Canadian Press. “It was really cool to get there and learn.”

Once the jet lag was over, Bédard joined the HV71 under-18 team for training.

“We realized he was too good,” said with a laugh Max Bohlin, general manager of the team’s junior program and head coach of his U18s.

Bédard was quickly transferred to the Under-20 group, but still only for training. His days included two sessions on the ice and about five hours at the rink.

When the other players were at school, the center was working on his fatal shot – one that rang on Melanie’s car license plate so many times when Connor was younger that she was pulled over by a police officer because the numbers and letters were chipped. beyond recognition – or participate in distance learning for classes in nine time zones.

“Everyone wants things in life,” Regina head coach Dave Struch said of Bedard crossing an ocean to train. “But what are you going to do to get it? What’s the motivation?

“He wants it, and he’s doing anything to get it.”

Bédard was “too good” for the HV71 U-18 team. (Johan Freijd / Handout / The Canadian Press)

After the WHL pushed his start date even further, the five-foot-nine, 165-pound Bedard was cleared to play a few games in Sweden. He scored two goals and two assists in four outings with the HV71 U20s and two more points in another competition with the U18s.

“Always focused on the next thing… it doesn’t matter if it’s a practice, a scrum or a game,” Bohlin said of what hit him about Bédard. “It opened our eyes as coaches, as players. He’s a special kid, but in my opinion it comes down to focus and a pure work ethic.

“Super humble. He’s so mature for his age.”

The Bédards’ stay would however be cut short after the closure of the league and the team due to a coronavirus epidemic. Connor and Madisen did not test positive, but after being quarantined for 10 days, the siblings returned home.

“We are really proud as a club to have had the opportunity to have him with us,” said Bohlin. “Maybe we helped him a bit along the way.

“It’s a historic mark for HV71 to have that kind of player here.”

Immediate impact with Pats

Back in Canada, but with the WHL campaign still on hold, Connor eventually traveled to Kelowna, BC, to train with a Junior-A team. And then, once the Pats learned that their season was finally playing out in a bubble meant to keep COVID-19 at bay, his focus changed again.

“Watch him play [in Sweden] at a high level it was really good, ”Struch said. It gave us an idea of ​​where he could fit in with us.

“Not just a role in the future, but it could have an immediate impact.”

This “could” became “definitely” in a short period of time.

Bedard hit the ground running for Regina, scoring twice in her first junior game against players up to five years her senior.

And he didn’t give up.

Sports Jersey No.98, the outstanding 15-year-old – the short list of players who have previously granted this status includes John Tavares, Connor McDavid and Shane Wright, the alleged top pick in the 2022 NHL Draft – would score 12 goals and 28 points in just 15 trips.

Bédard got off to a quick start when he returned to Regina. (Keith Hershmiller / Handout / The Canadian Press)

Struch said nothing seems to scare Bédard. It could be a great game, a goal on the reel, a missed chance, or a slash on an opponent’s wrist. His behavior never changes.

“He has a purpose in life,” said the coach. “But he lives in the moment. When he comes back to the bench, he’s ready to move on. That’s what an NHL player does. He already does.”

“If you are focused on the past, you are not going to focus on the present,” added Bédard. “Putting it aside and moving on is really important.”

Struch said that while Bedard is extremely gifted, his success really stems from quiet times away from Boy Scouts, fans and the media.

“All that people don’t see him do is why he does what he does,” he said. “His preparation, the way he eats, the way he warms up before training, the way he trains, the way he cools down after training.

“At 15 … remarkable.”

The soft-spoken Bedard even surprised himself – “a little” – during his abbreviated debut in the WHL.

“I wasn’t really expecting those point totals,” he said. “It’s not all me … more assists than goals. It’s a team effort.”

2 goals after the death of grandfather in an accident

Perhaps his biggest moment of the season came when he last appeared with the Pats before leaving to begin preparations to play for Canada at the current Under-18 World Championship in Texas.

Her grandfather, Garth Bedard, was killed in a car crash near Sicamous, British Columbia on April 6. Tom, who works in the forestry industry, and Madisen rushed to be with the children’s grandmother, but Connor was stuck in Regina.

“My mother-in-law just couldn’t talk to Connor on the phone, just because she knew how close they were and how emotional she would be,” said Melanie Bedard. “The day before his last game with the Pats, they finally spoke and Connor said, ‘Grandma, it’s okay, I’m going to score for Grandpa.’ And then he does.

“Then he said, ‘Mom, I just knew.’ ‘

Connor has actually scored twice in this game.

“He was one of the most outgoing guys,” he said of the family patriarch. “Just a very good person. It’s a tough loss.

“If I ever did something right, he would brag to everyone.”

Connor Bedard is just getting started. He knows the comparisons to some of the greats in the game.

But that sharp focus, as she has done throughout most of her 15 years, remains rooted in the present.

“Hearing your name in the same sentence as the guys I heard my name with in sentences is really cool,” he said. “It’s not something I think about a lot.”

Because it would take away from him his current job – even in the event of a pandemic – and his lofty goals for the future.

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