How Conor Bedard carelessly bears the weight of the hockey world

Arlington, Va. – Connor Bedard, dressed in full Chicago Blackhawks uniform but with socks and skates instead of skates, is laughing in a corner of the Washington Capitals’ training facility. He’s laughing so hard he’s holding his stomach, like some extra mime. There’s no telling what he was talking about with Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Stanislav Svozel and Seattle Kraken prospect Ricker Evans, but it must have been pretty funny.

that is it. Evidence that Bedard is truly human, with human feelings and human reactions. My God, he’s just a kid, he turned 18 this summer. In many ways, he’s a typical teenager, hanging out with his buddies and looking for a laugh.

“I like to be loose,” Bedard said. the athlete From the NHL Players Association’s Rookie Show event on Tuesday, where 34 of the top prospects and rookies applying for their rookie cards on the Upper Deck shot some B-roll footage and brawled a bit. “A lot of your best moments and best memories are when you’re in the room talking to the players, just kidding with your teammates. That’s something I really enjoy, just being with that group and in that team environment.

he’s there. He has always been there. But this side of Bedard is not for you. This is just for him and his friends, family and teammates. It is not for public consumption. You get vulgarity instead, cliches. Oh, very gentle Bédard, a very nice young man. he looks you in the eye when he talks to you; He speaks with poise and refinement. He says all the right things, which of course means he says nothing at all. Hockey 101.

See, most teens come to the NHL a little raw, on and off the ice. Not Bedard. The #1 pick is NHL-ready with the puck on his stick or the microphone in his face. The first reporter came in eager to be interviewed when he was just 12, and said he had been speaking “constantly” in public by the time he was 14, so he knows the drill now. “I made a couple,” he says sarcastically. He is smart and well-spoken, but wary and cautious.

Yes, his living arrangements have been finalized in Chicago, but he won’t tell you which veteran, if any, he’ll live with as a rookie. “It’s a personal matter,” he said. Yes, we all know he’s chiseled in stone as the Blackhawks’ starting quarterback on opening night, set to line up against his hero, Sidney Crosby, in his first NHL game, but he demurred and said he had to make the team first. He believes that “everyone is equal on the team”. Yes, he had to sneak out the back door of his Arlington hotel on Monday night, to get a taste of what his future would be like if he were even half the star he expected to be, but he brushed it off, saying, “Too much.” of men deal with it. I don’t really like to talk about it that much.”

At one point, Nuke LaLoosh said it all: “I just take it day in and day out and try to be a better Conor Bedard.”


Now in private, Bédard was completely normal by all accounts. A good kid “with a good head on his shoulders.” This is the wording used by almost everyone who has ever played, coached or trained with him. natural. But there is nothing natural about his situation. The fame and scrutiny he’s faced since he was 14, the dizzying expectations he faces at 18, the hope of securing a franchise and 10 million Chicagoans riding on his shoulders – it’s all unreasonable, unfair, and unfathomable. Bedard knows this. He knows what you expect of him. What the hockey world expects from him. What everyone expects from him. He knows how crazy it all is.

And this is how you keep your sanity in the face of all this madness. You block him. You focus on work. You can scroll faster, organize your news feed more carefully, and maybe even turn off your phone completely. And you say all the right and boring things. Because the last thing you need is to highlight this more interestingly by saying something interesting.

Bédard laughs when told that it makes him rather frustrated when spoken to.

“It’s only in interviews,” he says with a knowing smile. “People don’t see behind the scenes. I’m not saying I’m not a cool guy. I think I am. But I care a lot about hockey. I expect a lot from myself, and I want to do a good job and help my team win. But when I get questions, it’s just like giving A. I don’t want to sound rude at all, but what the outside world and journalists say and don’t say, doesn’t really have any effect on me. It’s nice to have (people talking about hockey) in the game, but for me, I focus on myself, my team and my family .

“Of course, I want to be a great player. I have a lot of expectations for myself, a lot of pressure on myself. But that outside noise is something you keep on the outside.

(Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Keeping that hype at bay can be a difficult proposition, especially in modern times. There was no public internet when Mario Lemieux broke into the league in 1984, and there was no Twitter or Instagram when Crosby was a rookie in 2005. Even 2015, when Conor McDavid burst onto the scene, seems like a kinder, gentler, gentler time than now. 2023.

How can a player block out the noise?

“He probably doesn’t use social media, he doesn’t get to Twitter,” said the other standout Blackhawks player, defenseman Kevin Korczynski, who gets all the pros and cons of starting his career under Bedard. “For him, the spotlight is really big. That he can block it out is a testament to his personality.”

Then Korchynsky paused.

“I mean, you do what you love, so no matter what happens, you win,” he said.

this how do you do that. This is how you keep things small, narrow, narrow. The mother, father and sister who kept Bédard steady and poised certainly helped. So did friends, coaches, and teammates. But it’s more about hockey than anything else. Focus on hockey. Bedard is obsessed with being great, and that drive will have him on the ice working on his tricky, multi-angle version all day, every day whether or not the world expects him to be, whether he’s trying to make the North Vancouver Storm or the Chicago Blackhawks.

Work is its own reward. And in work lies peace and comfort. knowledge. natural.

“I’ve always been someone who loved the game and wanted to get better,” he said.

It helps that this isn’t the first time Bédard has aged so frighteningly young. He was the seventh player ever to be awarded “exceptional status” by Hockey Canada at the age of 14, allowing him to play junior hockey ahead of schedule. He made his Western Hockey League debut in a bubble, in an empty rink, during the 2020-21 season. And all he did was score 12 goals and provide 16 assists in 15 matches. The following season, he scored 51 goals and 49 assists. Last season, 71 goals and 72 assists, followed by a 20-point playoff streak.

Ridiculous stuff.

“I had really good captains in my team, the guys put me at ease, our coaches and everything,” he said. “So I was able to go outside and play. It was a lot of fun.”

There are veteran leaders in the Blackhawks, too. Nick Foligno was in regular contact with him. Taylor Hall, his would-be left winger, arrived in the top line. Even Patrick Kane and Jonathan Tawes called him, and they’re not even Blackhawks anymore. They may be the only two people in the world who know exactly what Bédard feels and exactly what he wants. And they had the same general message as Bidar: Enjoy it, and never take it for granted, because there’s nothing in the world like playing hockey in Chicago, especially when you win.

Bedard described speaking to Toews as “fantastic”. He said it was “incredible” to talk to Kane, a player of similar size and skill, but was careful not to talk too much.

“In the end, he’s a human being like all of us,” Bedard said. “But what he’s done for the NHL and what he’s done in his career – he’s one of the best guys who’s ever played hockey. So connecting with him is incredible. I mean, I’m just a little kid.”

Of course, Bedard is more than that. He’s the talent of generations, the savior of the franchise, the statue of the future at the United Center, and anything else breathless you’d like piled on top of him. He knows that. He knows everything that is out there. But this is how you handle it. This is how you bear it all. You remember it’s just hockey. You remember that you are just a little kid.

“When you’re a kid, you don’t really understand how much there is outside of hockey,” he said. “But for me, I feel like the same person I was when I was 5 or 6 years old, tying them up and just playing. All that other stuff, it’s something that comes with it all. But you don’t notice that much because when it comes down to it, you’re doing what you love.” .

And you pretend that the rest is normal.

(Top photo: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

(tags for translation) Chicago Blackhawks

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