Walking on the same path as the phenomena of the past, Bédard engraves his name next to that of Gretzky
EDMONTON – A 16-year-old Wayne Gretzky’s 1977 streak at the World Junior Forum in Montreal looks like Zapruder, as he skates around these faceless “Czechoslovakians” like a Baryshnikov among bar stools. This grainy video was captured so long ago that his opponents that night changed their national team’s name not once but twice in the years that followed.
The phenomena have followed one another, through the same turnstile of the World Juniors to NHL stardom. Mario Lemieux, to Sidney Crosby, to Connor McDavid and perhaps now to young Connor Bedard, the only 16-year-old to score a hat trick at the World Junior Tournament since Gretzky himself.
Bedard, of the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, feasted Wednesday on an overwhelmed Austrian team that had no answer for the five-foot-nine dynamo, scoring four times. Then he described his performance as each of the aforementioned would have done, as having been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
âMost of these (goals), I’m kind of right in goal, putting a stick on something. It was pretty lucky, âsaid BÃ©dard after the game. âEveryone makes the game easier, when you play here with these guys. “
Bedard was, of course, the very first âoutstanding playerâ in the WHL, given the special dispensation of being allowed into the league at 15 – because he was so good. He is one of only seven in junior hockey history to receive this honor, a list that includes names such as John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, McDavid and his World Juniors teammate Shane Wright.
But lest you think a decision made on a player at 15 is a guarantee of celebrity in the NHL, know that a certain Sean Day – who achieved outstanding player status with the Mississauga Steelheads in 2013 – made his NHL debut Tuesday night with the Tampa Bay Lightning at the age of 23, after five seasons in the OHL and more than three seasons in the AHL.
Bedard tied the Canadian record with four goals in the 11-2 win over Austria on Tuesday, going two-on-one in the last second rather than shooting for a fifth goal.
âIt’s cool to hear your name and one of, if not the best player to ever play the game,â he said of Gretzky. âBut it’s a game. I don’t think I’ll get 2,800 points in the NHL.
Canadian defenseman Owen Power scored a hat trick in Game 1, a 6-3 win over Czech Republic. At six-foot-five and with a mastery of the game that far exceeds his years, it’s easy to envision Power as a 1,000-game NHL defenseman, carrying a letter and a playoff winner for years to come.
Bedard, however, is different.
At just 16, he has skills – but not size – that stand up to any player in the tournament. He looks like Patrick Kane, short at five feet nine and 180 pounds, but with time to grow taller. He started the tournament as head coach Dave Cameron’s 13th forward, but was on Canada’s top line by the end of game one.
He started the game against Austria on the fourth line, then scored four times.
McDavid is the most recent comparable, having skated at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Sweden at the age of 16. Like Bedard, his legend was already launched when McDavid joined Team Canada, but his time in Sweden – under the guidance of head coach Brent Sutter – did not live up to what Bedard appreciated. so far in Edmonton.
âWe had a good opener, the team won and our line was good. Then we faced the Czechs, I took some penalties and found myself 13th striker. I was the 13th forward the rest of the tournament, âMcDavid told me for the book. On the road to gold, Canada’s untold story at the World Junior Championships. âI definitely hadâ¦ an experience where I wasn’t a top player. I was always playing on the power play and so on, but I wasn’t that reliable there.
âI’m not going to lie. I did not enjoy my first World Juniors experience. I didn’t have much fun with it, âhe said.
McDavid suffered social media abuse, a lesson learned.
âI just remember it can be a little overwhelming at this age,â McDavid said. âYou are so young and you are entering your first matches on the big stage. With that comes social media and a lot of attention. For me and our team that yearâ¦ there was a lot of negativity around it. I remember it was difficult.
âI would tell (Bedard) to go out there and have fun. Maybe you stay away from social media a bit during this time as it can be a bit negative. “
Don’t worry, said Bedard. He won’t be reading internet dispatches on Wednesday morning, most of which – like this one – will point to him as a future superstar.
âI try not to take too many pictures of myself. I don’t read a lot, âhe said. âWe replay tomorrow (against Germany). The focus has already changed.
Team Canada is 2-0 here and is well in control. Mason McTavish is proving to be the best player on this team, although watching Bedard play you can already imagine a “C” on his chest next Christmas when the tournament moves to Omsk, the Siberian destination that might not be over. chilly than the deep minus-20s gripping Edmonton this Christmas.
âI like the words ‘Exceptional Status’â¦ He’s an exceptional player,â Cameron concluded. âWhat I love about my short stay with Connor is how receptive he is to training. I guess (GM Pats and Head Coach) John Paddock would tell you the same thing. You have to let these exceptional players exploit their strengths, but mature their game away from the puck. Connor has made great strides in the short time I have him.