Bedard can give his dad a record-breaking birthday gift
TSN SportsCentre Reporter Mark Masters reports on the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, running Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Halifax, N.S, and Moncton, N.B. Team Canada practised at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax on Friday. Team Sweden held an optional practice.
Connor Bedard is getting set for his first New Year's Eve game at the World Juniors.
"I'm pretty excited," the Team Canada winger said. "It's my dad's birthday so a little added excitement for my family ... He's my best friend and my hero growing up."
Tom Bedard is a second-generation logger and a big reason why the 17-year-old phenom is so focused.
"He's a pretty hard worker," Bedard said. "His schedule is probably tougher than most. He's getting up at 3, 4 in the morning, driving three, four hours each way and doing a pretty tough job. He comes home and he's still the most positive guy and everything ... Realizing what he does makes me feel so lucky to just play hockey and have fun."
Bedard is certainly having fun in Halifax where he leads the World Juniors in goals (six) and points (14). The gaudy numbers don't drive him, though.
"Getting to know him, deep down he's here for one thing," said head coach Dennis Williams. "He wants to repeat and try to win a gold medal again. I know he'll do whatever it takes...
There's a lot [said] in regards to his points and goals and assists, but I truly think he's a player that would give those up to win the hockey game and I don't think that's always easy for a kid that age."
Bedard tied the Canadian single-game record at the World Juniors with seven points in a win over Germany on Wednesday. He followed that up with a six-point outburst against Austria.
"He wants to be better than he was the last game," said defenceman Brandt Clarke. "He put up seven points the night before and he wasn't satisfied. He wanted to have a big night again yesterday and he wants another big night again tomorrow. That's the kind of person he is."
With two goals on Thursday, Bedard equalled Jordan Eberle for most all-time among Canadian players with 14. The pair have never spoken, but Bedard feels like he knows Eberle, who also played for the Regina Pats.
"Our trainers and everyone that was with him says what a great person he is," Bedard said. "He's someone that has a pretty special legacy there so it's cool to have my name beside his.
Eberle authored some big moments during his career wearing the Maple Leaf on this stage, including that famous tying goal with 5.4 seconds left in the 2009 semifinal against Russia in Ottawa.
"A little too young to fully remember," Bedard said, "but now I think that might be the biggest goal in World Junior history. He's a legend and what he did in the World Juniors was pretty ridiculous. He's definitely done a lot more than I have."
That could change in the next week.
"It'd be nice to score a big one like he has," Bedard said. "If you ask anyone in the country, they'd want to be scoring that goal so, of course, I'd want that too."
Bedard's first goal on Thursday – a bad-angle bullet off the back bar – seemed to stun everyone on the ice.
"It was very sudden," said Clarke. "Me and Tyson [Hinds] were at the point and then the play just stopped and we were like, 'What happened?' And you look at the replay and you're like, 'What in the world?' It's otherworldly. Like, it was a puck width of space and he put it in like only he can so it was pretty remarkable."
"That was mind blowing," agreed goalie Ben Gaudreau. "There's not too much you can really do. He has a crazy shot."
Adam Fantilli wasn't surprised. He saw Bedard score on a similar shot at the under-18 World Championship in April.
"He went out on the penalty kill and did the exact same shot right off the back bar," the Michigan Wolverines freshman recalled. "He's pretty auto with that. I guess he practises it a lot. He's awesome with it."
Bedard points out that Anaheim Duck Trevor Zegras has scored on that shot a few times and New Jersey Devil Jack Hughes did it this season.
"A lot of guys kind of bank it almost off the goalie's head from that angle," Bedard said. "A lot of times that's not there. I've missed that shot a lot too. I saw he was off his post a little and I tried to put it in a spot."
Bedard's second goal came off a set play. Logan Stankoven won a faceoff forward and fed Bedard, who slid and tapped it home.
"He just came up to me and asked if I wanted to run a little push," Bedard said. "I've tried that probably 50 times in the Dub [Western Hockey League] and my coach told me to stop because I never got it. It was pretty cool to see him, first try, just get it perfectly and give me one of the easiest goals I'll ever get."
"I've tried it in the Dub before and it's worked," Stankoven said. "I thought I'd surprise the other centre and push it through his legs."
Stankoven led the summer World Juniors in faceoff percentage (72.8 per cent) and he's even more dominant now (84 per cent).
"Hand positioning is big," he said. "If you can fake out the centre and make him think you're trying to win it back and he's trying to win it back as well, you can catch him off guard with a quick play."
Connor Bedard has tied Jordan Eberle's Canadian record for most goals at the #WorldJuniors with 14 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/l4czCNerec— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 30, 2022
Djurgardens goalie Carl Lindbom is well aware of what Bedard can do.
"You always got to be ready," he said. "When he's got the puck on his stick, you've got to be ready. You got to expect everything."
Lindbom, who has started all three games for Sweden, leads the World Juniors with a .974 save percentage.
"I'm feeling calm," said the 19-year-old from Stockholm. "It feels like I see the puck well. I see the puck through traffic. I trust my eyes. I trust my hands. I'm feeling good."
Bedard scored three goals on Lindbom in Canada's 8-1 semifinal win over Sweden at the 2021 under-18 World Championship. Will that experience help the Vegas Golden Knights prospect on Monday?
"I think so," he said with a smile. "I hope so, at least. We got a good idea of how he wants to play on the power play and where he wants to take his shots. So, yeah, I'd say so."
Lindbom believes the hostile crowd in Halifax will also help him.
"I do," he said. "I love a big crowd. I love the crowd booing you, going against you. I love it."
"It fires me up. It's fuelling."
Lindbom was picked in the seventh round of the 2021 NHL draft.
Canada's starter, Thomas Milic of the Seattle Thunderbirds, didn't get picked in the last two drafts.
"It's probably one of the bigger shocks for me," said Bedard. "He's been unreal in the Dub and coming here."
Milic is the only player on this star-studded Canadian squad to be passed over.
"I'm pretty proud of that," he said. "It doesn't matter how early you got picked, where you got picked, how old you are, you know, if you're playing good, you're playing good. So, that's all that matters in tournaments like this."
Milic attended Minnesota Wild training camp as a free agent in the fall.
"I was a couple stalls from [Marc-Andre] Fleury so that was pretty cool just seeing what he does on a daily basis and how awesome a guy he is," Milic said. "That was just a little taste of what it's like at that next level. Just skating with those guys and seeing what they do on a daily basis, a lot of that I took back with me to Seattle and to this tournament too."
Milic has posted a .919 save percentage in the WHL this season. He's even better through two appearances at the World Juniors (.923). Now, he gets the nod on New Year's Eve.
"Oh man, I'm pumped," said the 19-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C. "You know, that's all I can really say about it. Super excited. I've got some family here beyond just my parents so they'll all get to watch the game as well. I'm excited to make them and the rest of this country proud."
The Swedes boast their own draft-eligible dynamo in Orebro forward Leo Carlsson.
"I've watched a bit of his highlights and watched their game against Germany," said Bedard. "He's a special player. Some unreal hockey IQ. I'm excited to play against him and see that up close. I'm sure he'll be a pretty high pick in June."
Carlsson missed Sweden's game on Thursday because he was feeling under the weather, but was back on the ice at the optional practice and is eagerly anticipating this showdown with Bedard and Team Canada.
"It's going to be amazing," the 18-year-old said. "Biggest game I've played by far."
Carlsson, who stands 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, names Anze Kopitar as his NHL role model. He appreciates how the Los Angeles Kings captain protects the puck.
Carlsson has two assists and 11 shots in two games so far in Halifax.
"More physical player, but also reading the game real well and playing with instincts," said Sweden head coach Magnus Hävelid. "I hope he has his best game tomorrow."
Despite blowing out Germany and Austria by a combined score of 22-2, Williams is making a change to Canada's alignment. Zack Ostapchuk and Fantilli switched lines at practice. Ostapchuk will now skate on the third unit beside Nathan Gaucher and Zach Dean.
"Ostapchuk has done a really good job on the walls," Williams explained. "With that line there with Gaucher and Dean, it's maybe more of a line we can put out against a top line and be a shutdown line."
Ostapchuk, an Ottawa Senators prospect, has earned the promotion.
"What he's done the last two games, I think sometimes it's easy to go unnoticed," Williams pointed out, "but he plays an honest, workmanlike game. A guy we can trust. He'll get first on forechecks, first back on the track and he'll finish all his checks and make sure the puck gets out."
The Vancouver Giants captain is the star of the team's video sessions.
"He's definitely a true leader with the way he plays," said Clarke. "We do a lot of video where it's just like, 'Watch Chucky here. Watch the way he back checks. Watch the way he tracks.' That makes it easy for our D because they are breaking out the puck and they have him right on their butt right away. He's so determined. He knows where to be. He knows his game's in front of the net and back checking and wining those battles and he does it so well."
"He's such a complete player," said Bedard. "He drives us. He gives us so much energy. He's so big for us."
Fantilli scored his first goal at the World Juniors during the rout of Austria on Thursday.
"I was waiting for that one," the 18-year-old admitted afterwards. "I've been working really hard, trying to play the right way and happy one of the shots fell. Yeah, it was a little bit of relief."
Fantilli started camp on the second line with Stankoven, but has had trouble finding traction in the lineup.
"It's a tough tournament," stressed Williams. "There's always expectations on those players to roll in and get two, three points a game and what you see at this tournament is it's an older group, stronger group and everyone's fast, everyone competes and everyone makes play."
What's the biggest key for Sweden?
"Not give them any power play," said Hävelid succinctly.
Canada leads the World Juniors with a 68.8 per cent conversion rate (11/16) on the man-advantage. Almost all the damage has been done by the top unit, which features Olen Zellweger as the quarterback, Bedard and Dylan Guenther on the flanks, Shane Wright in the middle and Brennan Othmann in front of the net.
What does Williams like most?
"That everyone is being utilized," he said. "It's not just driven off one guy. So, whether it's Zellweger up top or it's going over to Connor and him using his shot or finding Dylan through the seam or down to the goal line to Othmann who goes backdoor to Dylan or the bumper to Wrighter, they're moving it around well. It's not just built off one foundation."
"We move the puck well," said Guenther, who leads the way with four power-play goals. "We're able to find seams. When the guy has the puck, the other four guys are giving him options. We're getting pucks to the net too. We can't be too cute with it. We can't try to pass the puck into the net. So, just getting shots and attacking."
The players experimented some new patterns after Friday's practice.
"Still working on it and trying new plays just to keep teams on their toes and keep it unpredictable," Guenther said.
Sweden leads the tournament in penalty killing. They have not surrendered a goal while shorthanded (10/10).
Lines at Friday's practice:
Othmann - Wright - Bedard
Roy - Stankoven - Guenther
Ostapchuk - Gaucher - Dean
Fantilli - Bankier - Dach
Del Mastro - Zellweger
Allan - Clarke
Korchinski - Matier
One puck, one team— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 30, 2022
🇨🇦 opens practice with a fun warm-up drill
Loose group as we reach the business end of the #WorldJuniors @BarDown pic.twitter.com/OWaQ5ic2gU