Melanie Bedard couldn’t sleep.
It was 4 a.m., and her two youngsters — Connor and Madisen, aged 15 and 17 — have been flying to Sweden in two days.
In the course of a pandemic.
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“I sat up and thought, ‘I don’t assume I can do that,’” she recalled. “You concentrate on if one thing occurs and also you’re so far-off.”
Connor Bedard, the primary participant granted distinctive standing to swimsuit up within the Western Hockey League a yr early and tabbed because the doubtless first choose within the 2023 NHL draft, had already seen his inaugural junior season placed on ice by COVID-19.
The prodigious expertise from North Vancouver, B.C., wanted a spot to coach and play, and Madisen, whose first yr of college was restricted to on-line programs, might do her college work from wherever on the earth.
So the household determined the pair would board a airplane for Europe within the fall as Connor, the No. 1 total choice by the WHL’s Regina Pats, continued to pursue his hockey dream with Swedish membership HV71.
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Melanie, like every mom, had some reservations.
However these fears have been put to relaxation when a textual content message arrived out of the blue from a coach that labored with Connor — he was good pals with the assistant coach the kids could be residing with in Jonkoping, a metropolis about 300 kilometres southwest of Stockholm.
“It was like, ‘OK, it is a signal,’” mentioned Melanie, who hosts worldwide college students on the household residence together with her husband, Tom, and is aware of a factor or two about involved dad and mom. “I might have had them go in any case, however I used to be simply struggling replaying all these situations.”
With each the Pats’ and the WHL’s blessing, that journey to Sweden was simply step one on a protracted, winding street Connor Bedard has taken throughout this pandemic season to quench an insatiable thirst for the sport he loves.
“New nation, new fashion of play,” he mentioned of his two months abroad in an interview with The Canadian Press. “It was actually cool to get there and be taught.”
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As soon as the jet lag wore off, Bedard joined HV71’s under-18 squad for practices.
“We realized he was too good,” Max Bohlin, common supervisor of the group’s junior program and head coach of its U18s, mentioned with fun.
Bedard was shortly moved to the under-20 group, however nonetheless just for coaching. His days included two on-ice periods and roughly 5 hours on the rink.
When the opposite gamers have been at school, the centre would work on his deadly shot — one which pinged off the license plate of Melanie’s automobile so many instances when Connor was youthful that she bought pulled over by a police officer as a result of the numbers and letters have been chipped past recognition — or participate in distant studying for courses 9 time zones away.
“Everyone desires issues in life,” Regina head coach Dave Struch mentioned of Bedard travelling throughout an ocean to practise. “However what are you going to do to get it? What’s the drive? He’s bought it.
“He desires it, and he’s doing all the pieces to get it.”
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As soon as the WHL pushed its begin date again even additional, the 5-foot-9 and 165-pound Bedard was allowed to play some video games in Sweden. He’d register two objectives and two assists in 4 outings with HV71’s U20s and two extra factors in one other contest with the U18s.
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“All the time targeted on the following factor … irrespective of if it’s a apply, scrimmage or sport,” Bohlin mentioned of what struck him about Bedard. “It opened up our eyes as coaches, as gamers. He’s a particular child, however for my part, it comes all the way down to focus and pure work ethic.
“Tremendous humble. He’s simply so mature for his age.”
The Bedards’ keep could be reduce quick, nonetheless, after league and group have been shut down due to a coronavirus outbreak. Connor and Madisen didn’t check optimistic, however after quarantining for 10 days, the siblings headed residence.
“We’re actually proud as a membership to have had the chance to have him with us,” Bohlin mentioned. “Possibly we helped him slightly bit alongside the best way.
“It’s a historical past mark for HV71 to have that type of participant right here.”
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Again in Canada, however with the WHL marketing campaign nonetheless up within the air, Connor finally headed to Kelowna, B.C., to apply with a junior-A group. After which as soon as the Pats bought phrase their season was lastly going forward inside a bubble meant to maintain COVID-19 at bay, his focus shifted anew.
“Watching him play (in Sweden) at a excessive degree was actually good,” Struch mentioned. “It gave us an concept of the place he would possibly slot in with us.
“Not only a position sooner or later, however he would possibly have an effect instantly.”
That “would possibly” turned to “undoubtedly” briefly order.
Bedard hit the bottom working for Regina, scoring twice in his first junior sport towards gamers as a lot as 5 years his senior.
And he didn’t let up.
Sporting jersey No. 98, the distinctive 15-year-old — the quick record of gamers beforehand granted that standing contains John Tavares, Connor McDavid and Shane Wright, the presumptive first choose within the 2022 NHL draft — would put up 12 objectives and 28 factors in simply 15 outings.
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Struch mentioned nothing appears to faze Bedard. It might be an awesome play, a highlight-reel aim, a missed likelihood or a slash on the wrist from an opponent. His manner by no means adjustments.
“He’s bought a aim in life,” mentioned the coach. “However he lives within the second. When he comes again to the bench he’s prepared to maneuver on. That’s what a participant within the NHL does. He’s doing that already.”
“If you happen to’re targeted on the previous, you’re not going to concentrate on the current,” Bedard added. “Placing issues apart and transferring on is admittedly vital.”
Struch mentioned whereas Bedard is supremely gifted, his success actually stems from the quiet moments away from scouts, followers and media.
“Every little thing that folks don’t see him do is why he will get to do what he does,” he mentioned. “His preparation, the best way he eats, the best way he warms up earlier than apply, the best way he practices, the best way he cools down after apply.
“At 15 years previous … outstanding.”
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The soft-spoken Bedard even stunned himself – “slightly bit” — in his abbreviated WHL debut.
“I didn’t actually count on these level totals,” he mentioned. “It’s not all me … extra assists than objectives. It’s a group effort.”
Maybe his biggest second of the season got here in his remaining look with the Pats earlier than leaving to start preparations to play for Canada on the under-18 world championship at the moment underway in Texas.
His grandfather, Garth Bedard, was killed in a automobile accident close to Sicamous, B.C., on April 6. Tom, who works within the logging business, and Madisen rushed to be with the youngsters’ grandmother, however Connor was caught in Regina.
“My mother-in-law simply wasn’t capable of discuss to Connor on the telephone, solely as a result of she knew how shut they have been and she or he knew how emotional she’d be,” Melanie Bedard mentioned.
“The day earlier than his final sport with the Pats they lastly spoke and Connor mentioned, ‘Grandma, it’s OK, I’m going to attain for grandpa.’ After which he simply does.
“Afterwards he says, ‘Mother, I simply knew.’”
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Connor really scored twice that sport.
“He was one of the crucial outgoing guys,” he mentioned of the household patriach. “Only a actually good particular person. It’s a tricky loss.
“If I ever did something good, he’d brag to everybody.”
Connor Bedard is simply getting began. He is aware of in regards to the comparisons to among the sport’s greats.
However that razor-sharp focus, because it has all through most of his 15 years, stays rooted within the current.
“Listening to your title in the identical sentence as the blokes I’ve heard my title in sentences with is admittedly cool,” he mentioned. “It’s not one thing I take into consideration a lot.”
As a result of that will take away from his work now — even in a pandemic — and his lofty objectives for the longer term.
© 2021 The Canadian Press