The future of hockey emerges from his team’s dressing room looking about as comfortable as any 13-year-old kid does in a suit. The shirt and (remarkably) the tie are both wrinkled and there is what looks like a ketchup stain on his left cuff. His pants are tucked into his socks and he’s trying to deal with a rogue thatch of hair that keeps getting into his eyes.
Fortunately, Connor Bedard looks much more comfortable on the ice. The young man who is inviting comparison to the likes of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, and has the work ethic to match, has just finished scoring both goals for his West Van Academy bantam prep team in a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Titans. On the first goal, Bedard knocked a pass out of the air and almost lost it before regaining control and putting it over the goalie’s shoulder. On the second, he pounced on a loose puck at the circle, made a tight turn toward the net and split the defense before scoring on a backhand deke. They were his 32nd and 33rd goals this season in his 14th game. At one point this season, Bedard registered hat tricks in five consecutive games.
“Actually, I thought it was one of his more average games of the season,” said Jon Calvano, West Van’s coach who has had a front-row seat to Bedard’s exploits this season.
The West Van team is in Toronto this weekend for a showcase tournament, but it seems every game has provided Bedard an opportunity to showcase his sublime array of skills this season. His ability to handle the puck borders on the surreal and his edges are something to behold. His ability to handle the puck in traffic sets him apart from his opponents, many of whom are more than a year older than he is. Bedard was recently profiled in The Hockey Newsas part of our Superstar Issue.
The attention has already been white-hot for Bedard, who stands 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds and celebrated his 13th birthday in July. But if he’s feeling the pressure, either on or off the ice, he is certainly not showing it. He and his family have so far rebuffed the entireties of agents and teams in the behemoth Greater Toronto Hockey League to move east so he can display his talents in the country’s biggest city. He’s likely the youngest player to have been profiled in The Hockey News and then there are the comparisons to some of the greatest players in the game.
“It’s super cool and exciting with all these calls we’re getting and it’s super interesting for me and my parents,” Bedard said. “This is all so new for us. It’s also super humbling.” As far as dealing with agents is concerned, Bedard is even less fazed. “I think we can handle it,” he said of him and his family. “It’s just people.”
A lot of things are super in Connor Bedard’s world these days. He’s skated with the Surrey Eagles of the British Columbia Junior League, even though he’s a couple of years from being able to play at that level. Next season, Bedard hopes to play for West Van’s under-18 team against players up to three years older, something that would require an exemption from the B.C. Hockey, the organization that governs minor hockey in that province. The designation has never been granted, not even to prodigies such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mat Barzal. That will likely be followed next season by an application to Hockey Canada to be granted “exceptional player” status, which would allow Bedard to play in the Western League in the 2020-21 season. Matthew Savoie, who has received a similar exemption to play for an under-18 prep school team in Alberta, is believed to be applying to become the first exceptional status player in WHL history for next season. It’s believed Shayne Wright of the Don Mills Flyers, a bantam-aged player in midget hockey this season, will apply for exceptional status in the Ontario League for next season, and possibly another bantam-aged player named Adam Fantilli, who plays for the Toronto Red Wings. Fantilli is a late-birthday 2004-born player who doesn’t turn 14 years old until Dec. 10. Whew, that’s a lot of exceptional players.
“I think for Connor it’s going to be a balancing act with the pressure he puts on himself and what everyone is expecting when they come to watch him play,” Calvano said. “We haven’t really ever had anything of this magnitude on the west coast. Mat Barzal kind of had it, but not to this extent.”