For the first time in his young WHL career, 16-year-old Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard will get to play a regular-season game in front of fans when his team opens the season on Friday night in Prince Albert against the Raiders. The Raiders will then make the return trip to Regina for the Pats home opener on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Bedard said. “Obviously, (it’s) going to be my first game in front of a big crowd and a lot of people will hopefully come.”
In fact, there will likely be many nights when fans will be flocking to whatever rink Bedard is playing in, as they hope to get a glimpse of a player who could be the top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Last season, in Bedard’s rookie year, no fans were allowed in the Brandt Centre, where every Saskatchewan and Manitoba-based team played 24 games in an East Division hub schedule.
“I think we’re all really looking forward to that and getting fans back,” Bedard said. “Last year with no one there, that’s something we all missed.”
In his rookie year, Bedard put up 28 points in 15 games before leaving the Pats to suit up for Team Canada at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship. And at the time of his departure, he was leading the entire league in scoring.
While he hasn’t publicly stated his goals for this season, there’s no doubt Bedard, who became the first player in league history to be granted exceptional status, is hoping to continue that ascent.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Bedard said. “I have high expectations for myself and for the team.”
This pre-season, Bedard tied teammate Cole Dubinsky for the league lead with 10 points in six games, when the Pats went 3-2-1. And after three straight years of finishing below the .500 mark in the regular season, the Pats believe this could be the year they make themselves into a contender.
“The exhibition season was good for us,” said Pats head coach Dave Struch. “We grew a lot as a group and we saw lots of improvements in our system and individual development.
“We have a lot of skill and I think we can be a really good team,” Bedard said. “The main goal is just to win.”