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Connor Bedard is Inevitable at the World Juniors

All hail the boy king of Canada, who pushed his team past a very good Slovakian squad with a tour de force performance in the quarterfinal.
Connor Bedard

HALIFAX - As a riveting quarterfinal at the world juniors headed to overtime, it seemed like there were only two possibilities of how things would end: either Slovakia, outshot 2-to-1 by the host Canadians, would find a way to get one more puck past goalie Thomas Milic - or Connor Bedard would score for Canada. Much to the relief of the majority of fans at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Bedard came through for the 4-3 victory, putting an indelible stamp on a game he had already used to set multiple Canadian offensive records.

Despite being the youngest member of the team, Bedard feels inevitable at this point. When he gets the puck, you expect him to score. And the moment isn't too big for him, because he just loves what he's doing.

"I always want the puck," Bedard said. "It's still hockey, I'm still out there doing what I love and obviously the moment is big, but I've done that same move, taken those same shots a million times in my basement or on the ice by myself and in practice. That repetition of practise is good for that."

Ah yes, the move. Or moves, if we're going to be accurate. Bedard literally (OK, figuratively, shut up) burned all three Slovakian skaters on his OT winner, including a pretty excellent defenseman in New Jersey Devils prospect Simon Nemec. Then he had to beat one of the hottest goalies in the tournament, draft prospect Adam Gajan.

"That's what he does," said teammate Shane Wright. "It was quite the performance and he stepped up for us. Unbelievable talent, unbelievable player and he was huge for us. Just so much poise and confidence making that play. After a period and half an overtime the ice wasn't great and to be able to make that play - to pull it to the middle and finish on the backhand like that is just incredible. Not many players can make that play."

What's amazing about Bedard is how many ways he can burn the opposition. Of course there's the wicked release he has on his shot; the one that almost makes you feel sorry for the glass on the rare occasion he misses the net with it. But there's also the dangles, like the ones that ended Slovakia's tournament.

"You don't teach those things," said Canada coach Dennis Williams. "His poise - most players probably would have shot it into the goalie's pads. To have that extra move to calm things down...Right now, who's stick would you want it on other than Connor's right there?"

Truth. On top of that, there's the fire Bedard brings to the ice. Even though he had done more than his fair share during regulation, a missed chance (thwarted by an incredible stick by Slovakian defenseman Pavol Funtek) with less than five minutes to go caused Bedard to pound the boards in frustration with a gloved fist. On his game-winning goal, he seemed to have an air about him of I'm finishing this game, don't you dare try and stop me. Between that and the physical play he has shown - not to mention the chirping he partakes in - you can tell Bedard is a fierce competitor. Though it can get the better of him, he usually benefits from that passion.

"I was maybe getting too angry today and I did take a penalty," he said. "It's about being calm and cool - that's when I'm at my best. But I also want to have that passion and that anger, so it's about finding that balance."

When Bedard is using his emotions as jet fuel, his team benefits. The coaches even switched up their offensive zone faceoff set-up to get Bedard behind center Logan Stankoven for more potential scoring chances.

"When the game starts to get on the line more, you start to see it coming out more in him," Williams said. "You want to make sure the puck is on his stick as much as possible. He rises to the occasion. He kept looking back, wanting more. We were double-shifting him a lot and he kept wanting to get back out there."

So he's got records: Most career WJC points by a Canadian with 32, most career WJC goals for Canada with 15 and most points by a Canadian in one tournament with 19 (now the record is 21 and counting) He's gotten shout-outs from the likes of Eric Lindros and Jordan Eberle (both of whom he passed for said records) and has his team in the semifinal thanks to a two-goal, three-point night. But Bedard isn't resting on all that.

"For myself, that game is over and I have to prove it to myself again; that's my mentality," he said. "Whether I play bad or good, the next game I have to prove it again."

And this is why the top prospect for the 2023 NHL draft feels inevitable. At this point in the tournament, based on what we've seen, would you doubt Bedard to come through?

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