Junior star Connor Bedard filling hockey arenas in Western Canada

Junior star Connor Bedard filling hockey arenas in Western Canada

CALGARY – Call it the Connor Bedard boost.

The 17-year-old Regina Pats forward continues to pack arenas across Western Canada after his electrifying performance at the Men’s World Junior Hockey Championship last month.

The first overall pick in June’s NHL Draft filled the Saddledome in Calgary on Wednesday after junior rinks reached capacity in his previous five games.

In anticipation of ticket demand, the Calgary Hitmen have increased sales beyond the usual lower bowl for major junior games to the upper sections of the Saddledome.

A Hitmen spokesman said 16,700 tickets had been sold by mid-afternoon for Wednesday’s game.

The Western Hockey League game, also televised on TSN, provided the largest internal audience of Bédard’s career.

“I’m pretty sure that would be the most,” Bedard said during a pre-game media briefing at a downtown Calgary hotel.

“It’s a lot, so it’s exciting for all of us to have that and I think it’s something you don’t really get tired of.”

Edmonton and Calgary have both Western Hockey League teams that share an arena with an NHL club.

Bedard’s last outing at the Saddledome, on October 2, drew 3,279 players.

But since breaking multiple records and being named tournament MVP at the junior men’s championship in Halifax with 23 points in nine games, Bedard has been bums at home and on the road.

There was a slight uptick in WHL gates in November when Bedard and the Pats were in town, but he’s even hotter now.

Tuesday’s game in Red Deer, Alta., sold out at 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 packed house of more than 7,000 people is scheduled for Sunday in Medicine Hat.

“On the road, they don’t like you as much, which is funny,” Bedard said. “When you’re home they cheer you on, so you’re kind of excited for it anyway.”

Fans in the WHL markets are enjoying the chance to see a future NHL superstar for $15 to $30 rather than double the price when he likely plays in the NHL next season.

Bedard’s 42 goals and 43 assists in 34 games topped the WHL with 2.5 points per game.

“There seems to be a certain level of elite players who are…so invested, so focused, so motivated, or pay so much attention to detail,” the Pats coach and general manager said. , John Paddock, who previously coached the Ottawa Senators of the NHL. and the Winnipeg Jets.

“For me, that’s him. He’s able to isolate outside noise for the most part and just be himself.

“I see him every day. The best way to put it is that there’s no indication he won’t be what everyone is talking about.

“He’s been under the microscope for a while, but it’s definitely gotten bigger as the scenes get bigger and he gets a bit older.”

Bedard of North Vancouver, BC, hasn’t given up since the World Junior Tournament with 16 goals and eight assists in seven WHL games.

“I guess if it’s possible (he’s) even more focused and more motivated and he’s determined to play in playoff games with us and I think that’s the biggest driver of him right now.” Paddock said.

“That’s what he wants.”

The Pats (22-21-2-1) were tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference with 19 games left in their regular season.

Bedard being held off the scoresheet in the NHL/CHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 26 in Langley, B.C. — also sold out — is unlikely to shake his draft stock. June 28 in Nashville, Tennessee.

His game-changing abilities in Halifax, competing with and against players two years his senior, cemented his status as a top prospect.

Bedard’s three-deke overtime goal in a quarter-final win over Slovakia drew Canadian fans into the building and watched them at home both exhale in relief and marvel at his skill .

“When you get together with all these guys, the best players in the country and you play against the best players in the world, it always helps,” the Pats captain said.

“You can always learn a lot and I think I was able to do that.”

Bedard says aiming for the playoffs is more on his mind at this point in the season than hearing his name called first by an NHL club in Nashville.

“It would be quite special. It’s February now. It’s quite a distance,” he said.

“I don’t think about that, but obviously that would be pretty cool.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 1, 2023.

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