HALIFAX – It’s the kind of brilliance that sneaks up on.
Connor Bedard humbly dominated again to help Canada obliterate Austria 11-0 in World Juniors action Thursday night, led by his two goals and four assists in yet another performance for the ages that, at times, left the crowd gasping in awe.
On his way to tying the record for most goals by a Canadian in the World Juniors – he now has 14, with at least two more games ahead of him to pass Jordan Eberle – Bedard again showed why his effortless excellence is highly sought after by practically the entirety of the NHL.
“What he’s been doing is so special and the way he’s doing it is amazing,” said teammate Adam Fantilli. “So, yeah, we have absolutely nothing but smiles for him right now.”
“His shot and his ability to score goals are some of the best I’ve ever seen,” said Canada captain Shane Wright. “He’s always creative with the way he shoots the puck, and he can release from different angles and all that. So, definitely really impressive.”
But none of it — tying the record, scoring jaw-dropping goals, having people travel for miles to see him play — ain’t no big deal to Bedard.
“It’s pretty cool to have people want to watch you, but I’m another player on the team,” he said. “We’ve got so many guys that are special players. And, for myself, I’m not thinking of that sort of stuff. I’m just here, one of the guys, and obviously trying to contribute.”
Two moments of this game are worth isolating for emphasis of his generational talent.
On Canada’s third goal, with Austria killing a penalty, Bedard collected the puck in the neutral zone, drifted inside the blueline, waiting, waiting, waiting, the opposite of Connor McDavid’s constant flurry, Bedard’s legs barely stirring, not even a stride, gliding instead through the high slot, ever-so-slightly lifting the front of his skate, poised, waiting, before finally sliding a no-look backhand pass to an open Wright. The captain wired it, top-shelf, to give Canada a commanding 3-0 and break the spirit of an Austrian team that had been more than in it until this point.
Then, three minutes into the second period, Bedard took the puck down the right side, going wide, not rushing, keeping his eyes open, when, just as he reached the bottom of the circle, his skates threatening the goal line, he fired a shot to an all-but-invisible opening in the far corner. A shot so unbelievable that it had the Halifax crowd gasping as one and was so impossible to fathom that it required a video review for confirmation.
“I mean, it was mind-blowing,” said Canada goaltender Benjamin Gaudreau. “He has a crazy shot. He’s one of the most talented players probably I’ve ever played with or against.
“Those bad angles are the ones that really get you (as a goalie). You see it in the NHL every other day, a goal like that, and it’s a hard angle to play and you just got to be really focused and do whatever works for you best. But when you put a shot that good, it makes it tough. It really does.”
And we haven’t even mentioned his second goal, the one that tied Eberle’s record, which he somehow scored late in the third period, redirecting a Stankoven pass while diving.
Bedard wasn’t picking favourites between the two.
“They count the same, so I like them both,” he said.
Here we bring in the requisite reminder that Bedard is a 17-year-old taking on players who are all older and often bigger and stronger.
The new NHL, with its openness to skill over size, patience over pugilism, is perfectly suited for the arrival of the five-foot-10, 185-pound scoring dynamo from North Vancouver, B.C.
“Well, his offense is obviously the biggest thing that stands out on a nightly basis,” said former NHL scouting director and current Sportsnet analyst Jason Bukala. “I mean, he’s elite. He’s by far the best offensive talent in this tournament. He looks like he could be playing in the National Hockey League right now.”
Bedard does have some work to do, however. He was part of a sluggish Canadian team that was at one point deep into the second was being outshot 3-1 by Austria and looked like it wanted to be somewhere else.
“I did feel like his detail kind of went in ebbs and flows at times,” Bukala added. “He didn’t start the game on time. He turned the puck over just inside the offensive blue line in the first few minutes. Austria doesn’t have any type of pedigree to turn that up-ice.” Sweden – which Canada faces New Year’s Eve, at 7:30 ET / 4:30 PT – will, Bukala added.
Canada’s other goals were scored by Dylan Guenther, Zach Dean, Joshua Roy, Nolan Allan, Logan Stankoven, Fantilli, Nathan Gaucher and Tyson Hinds.
Under-the-radar performance(s): Roy and Stankoven rode along as linemates on the Bedard Express, but they weren’t passengers by any means, each finding space and asserting themselves when called upon. Roy’s goal opened the scoring in the second and Stankoven’s closed it (after another video review). Roy also mixed well with Fantilli on the power play to get Canada up to 8-0, showing again he can play well with anyone. And, of course, Stankoven got Bedard the puck on the diving goal.
Viral moment of the game: We could pick either of Bedard’s goals, but let’s go with the second, which was a set play off the faceoff, cooked up by Bedard and Stankoven during the preceding stoppage and tied him for most by a Canadian at the World Juniors. Who even does that?
Horror story through-line: Canada’s goaltending situation remains the scary monster lurking in the closet that has yet to be opened. Gaudreau, he of the mediocre performance in Canada’s 5-2 loss to Czechia, got the start against Austria and was barely challenged, going long-long-long stretches without seeing the puck on his half of the ice, let alone an actual shot. This seemingly opens the door for Thomas Milic to start the highly anticipated matchup with Sweden, Canada’s final game of the preliminary round.
Coach Dennis Williams, however, wasn’t revealing anything after the win against Austria.
“He didn’t see a ton of ton of work out there,” Williams said of Gaudreau. “Anytime you get a shutout, you’ve got to think it’s a solid performance.
“We’ll take the next 24 hours and kind of devise a plan and see what our lineup looks like and our goaltending situation.”
For his part, Gaudreau said he was contacted by former NHL goaltender Carter Hutton, who reached out through a mutual friend and provided a pep talk of sorts after the Czechia loss.
“He took a lot of time out of his day to write a real big paragraph about what he does to bounce back and all that, so, again, I can’t thank him enough for that,” said Gaudreau, who stopped all 12 shots he faced against Austria.