Bedard on the Big E's radar as Canada preps for world junior quarterfinals

HALIFAX — Connor Bedard wasn't aware of the tweet.

A genius with the puck capable of making opponents look foolish at any moment, the supremely gifted 17-year-old is singularly focused on the world junior hockey championship.

He's also on the verge of rewriting Canada's record book at the event.

And one of the game's greats Bedard just equalled has taken note.

"Don't just break the record," Eric Lindros posted to social media Sunday. "Smash it!"

Bedard tied the Hall of Fame centre's mark of 31 career points at the men's under-20 event with 18 over just four games in a jaw-dropping display of speed, skill and creativity.

The North Vancouver, B.C., native got there in just 13 contests compared to the 21 it took the player known as the "Big E" during his dominant playing days.

"Pretty cool he even knows who I am," Bedard said with a grin after learning of the tweet. "That's awesome to hear that. Him wanting me to beat it is cool.

"A few more games, so hopefully I can."

That quest continues Monday when the tournament hosts face Slovakia in a quarterfinal matchup at Scotiabank Centre.

Bedard not now only sits next to Lindros, he's also tied Jordan Eberle for the most all-time goals at the world juniors by a Canadian with 14.

The list doesn't stop there.

The presumptive top pick at the 2023 NHL draft has equalled Dale McCourt and Brayden Schenn for the most points by a Canadian in a single tournament.

He's also tied Jaromir Jagr for the most points by a player aged 18 or younger.

"Amazing to play with," Canadian defenceman Ethan del Mastro said. "And it'd be pretty tough to play against him."

Slovakia will take their shot Monday.

Selected No. 2 overall at the 2022 draft by New Jersey, blue-liner Simon Nemec said his team will look to make life difficult for Bedard, who had an assist and took four minor penalties in a pre-tournament game between the countries.

"Best player here," said Nemec, the tournament leader in ice time averaging over 26 minutes per game. "We need to skate with him, we need to be closer to him.

"He's strong, but a physical game is not good for him."

Bedard's gaudy offensive numbers are getting all the attention – and why wouldn't they? – but head coach Dennis Williams said what he noticed during a four-assist performance in Saturday's emphatic 5-1 victory over Sweden was how the team's best player celebrated Canada's first goal after just 57 seconds.

Bedard rarely shows emotion on the ice when he scores. But even he couldn't contain himself after setting up Joshua Roy's opener in front of a raucous New Year's Eve crowd on home soil.

"You saw how much he cares," Williams said. "He's playing with what I call 'silent confidence' because you don't even know about it. He goes about every day the same. Talking to him this morning, he's the same Conner Bedard."

"I was pretty fired up," Bedard said. "The most excited I've got this tourney.

"I probably get more excited when someone else scores. At that moment you're pretty juiced."

Bedard also demonstrated he's not only a threat going forward.

The five-foot-10, 185-pound centre with the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats threw his weight around and was keen to track back into the defensive zone when needed.

"Something I want to do," Bedard said. "Parts of games that go unnoticed."

His teammates certainly notice when he's putting in the same effort at both ends of the rink.

"You see his production and that deserves to be recognized," Canadian defenceman Brandt Clarke said. "He's done phenomenal things in the offensive zone. He's not just an offensive player. He cares about the whole ice.

"That's just the winning mindset that he has."

Canadian captain Shane Wright said Bedard's vision and ability to deceive might be among his greatest attributes.

"Unbelievable," said the No. 4 draft pick in 2022 by Seattle. "The way he sees the game unfold, it's almost like everyone else is moving a step slower than him. He reads the game so well. He understands the situation, understands what's going on around him.

"Pretty impressive."

Eric Lindros – and countless others – can't look away.

BECK GETS CALL

Colton Dach's misfortune means Owen Beck will get a world junior taste he didn't envision when he sat down to watch Saturday's game.

Dach suffered an apparent shoulder injury early in the third period, ruling the bottom-six forward out for the rest of the tournament.

Beck, who was cut from selection camp, knew as soon as Dach was helped to the locker-room in agony he might be getting the call.

It came shortly thereafter and the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads centre was on a Sunday morning flight to Halifax.

"Knowing I was right there, it's a pretty cool feeling," Beck said of not making the team and then getting an unexpected reprieve. "This is gonna be awesome."

Dach’s injury is also added motivation for Canada.

"We all feel so bad for him," Bedard added. "A huge loss for us."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 1, 2023.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press