Bedard’s legend continues to grow with dazzling performance at packed Saddledome

Regina Pats' Connor Bedard skates during on-ice testing ahead of the CHL/NHL Top Prospects game, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

CALGARY — Another game, another record for Connor Bedard.

This time, the impressive number attached to his name revolves around the largest crowd he’s ever played in front of.

The hype generated by his unprecedented dominance at the world juniors prompted 17,223 to pour into the Scotiabank Saddledome Wednesday to get an affordable look at the Regina Pats captain as he solidifies his future as the NHL’s first overall pick this summer.

And they’ll never forget what they saw.

Nor will anyone who has watched him in packed stadiums ever since the 17-year-old North Vancouver native re-wrote Team Canada’s record book with a Christmas performance for the ages.

If he wasn’t a household name before that, he sure is now, prompting sellouts in all eight rinks he’s played in since the holiday tourney.

In that span, he’s recorded an incredible 17 goals and 26 points to extend his point streak to 35 games.

The only game he was held off the score sheet was opening night, despite recording 10 shots on goal.

The bigger the stage, the louder the crowd, the better he seems to get.

On Wednesday he played the hero again with a goal, an assist to tie the game with 33 seconds left, and the shootout winner with a nifty deke the crowd relished.

“It’s exciting for all of us to have (packed houses) — I think that’s something you don’t really get tired of,” said Bedard, whose club drew 3,300 at the Dome when they last visited in October.

“Our B.C. trip in November was really good as well — we were sold out every game and stuff.

“But since we got back in Regina, we’ve been sold out and obviously on the road. It’s been really exciting. It gives you a little more energy. It’s always a lot of fun.”

While the Hitmen used to lead the WHL in attendance, they average slightly over 3,500 now, as they cling to one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

As the country watched Bedard carry Team Canada on his back, executives around the WHL started promoting upcoming visits from Bedard’s Pats.

The response in Calgary was fitting for a phenom who did things at Christmas Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros and even Wayne Gretzky never could.

“We talked about (promoting Wednesday’s game) even before Christmas,” said Hitmen VP Mike Moore, well aware the legend was growing around the league’s first player ever to be granted exceptional status, allowing him to play as a 15-year-old two seasons ago.

“He was a good player before Christmas, but the world juniors certainly put him on the map with the records, and the way he played there and led our country to gold, people got to know him across the country.”

The Dome’s lower bowl sold out a month ago, prompting the club to open the upper deck, which also filled up quickly.

“We knew it would be a good number, but we were surprised it continued to climb the last week to the point people couldn’t get a ticket for a Wednesday night Hitmen game,” said Moore, whose club typically only sells out the annual Teddy Bear Toss game.

“To see a generational player is an experience for everybody. Yeah, he’ll be in the NHL and in this building again, but not at a junior level, so it’s a pretty good experience for everybody.

“Listen, it’s special. He broke all the records and had some pretty special games there. That overtime goal, how do you compare?”

Bedard’s first game after the tourney was a four-goal, six-point effort at home against the Hitmen.

It only added to the mystique of No. 98, who can tie the WHL point streak record of 56 games if he records a point in his remaining 21 games.

Only Bedard could bring traffic leading to the Dome to a crawl for a junior tilt.

So dominating is the young man, he is averaging almost seven shots on goal a game.

He drew gasps Wednesday with several dangles and saucer passes, as well as a first-period snipe from an almost impossible angle that found the top corner, extending his goal-scoring streak to 11 games.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much,” he said of the points streak that has seen him score 44 goals and 90 points, giving him a 24-point cushion atop the WHL scoring race.

“There’s been some games where I got a lucky one in overtime, and stuff, so there’s definitely been some close ones. For me, I haven’t thought about it. I’m just trying to go out there and play my best every game and see what happens.”

The focus, as he demonstrated over Christmas with his refusal to talk about himself, is his team — an eighth-place club clinging to the final playoff spot in the east.

“He’s determined to play in playoff games with us, and I think that’s the biggest driver for him right now,” said Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock, who said Bedard is even more focused and driven since the world juniors.

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

And he knows that will continue.

“The best way to say it is there hasn’t been any indication that he’s not going to be what everybody talks about,” said Paddock, who then was asked if he thought the 5-foot-10, 185-pound centre is NHL-ready.

“Yeah, I guess so. I think that’s going to happen soon enough, in seven, or eight, or nine months.

“The details to prepare for the game and get focused for, say, a road trip, he would have that. That’s not going to change. There’s going to be an adaptation for him (to be) bigger, faster, stronger, but clearly he’s on top of the charts as a 17-year-old in our league. I think that’s pretty hard to argue.”

The numbers, and the legend, continue to grow.

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