Bedard draws oohs and awws in Blackhawks' preseason opener
Preseason games are normally much ado about nothing.
Really doesn't matter who scores, how many saves the goalies make, or which team wins.
It was a bit different for the Blackhawks on Thursday, though, as they ushered in the Connor Bedard era with a 2-1 overtime victory over the St. Blues at the United Center.
While the entire 300 level was empty, the bottom two bowls buzzed with a sense of anticipation.
Kids held up signs begging Bedard for a puck. Longtime season ticket holders snapped pictures. And the crowd roared its approval when Bedard was announced as the final Hawks starter right before the national anthem.
There's a lot of weight on this kid's shoulders, but he's handling every step like a battle-tested veteran. Still, he admitted to feeling a bit like an 8-year-old on Christmas Day after morning skate at Fifth Third Arena.
"I was talking to my dad today," said Bedard, who assisted on both goals. "I was like, 'I get to play in the United Center tonight. That's pretty unreal.' "
Also unreal was the sweet game-winning pass Bedard made to Andreas Athanasiou at 4:02 of OT. After taking a pass from Seth Jones in the defensive zone, Bedard motored through the neutral zone, spotted Athanasiou racing across ice and fed his teammate by zipping the puck around a Blues defenseman. Athanasiou went forehand/backhand and lifted the puck into the net top shelf.
"He made an unbelievable pass on the winning goal," said coach Luke Richardson. "He just feels comfortable with that puck -- like skating in traffic. He's gonna have no trouble playing with bigger guys in this league. He's got that special quality that he seems to find what he needs to do at the right time."
Want another unreal moment? OK, how about the move Bedard put on Blues winger Jake Neighbours in the first period? With fans already imploring Bedard to shoot, the rookie proceeded to pull off a toe drag only a few players can execute.
The low shot was saved ("awww!"), but Bedard certainly didn't take long to show us why he's such a special talent.
"I knew from watching him at World Juniors that his shot was really good, but I didn't realize how good he was on his edges," defenseman Connor Murphy said Thursday morning. "He's shifty and able to control the ice up the middle, which is obviously important as a centerman.
"He's able to pull the puck to different parts of his body to protect it and then also has the awareness and soft hands to make nice passes."
Bedard did more than impress offensively. To wit:
• He was strong in the faceoff circle, winning 10 of 16 draws.
• He broke up a scoring chance late in the first period with an impressive backcheck.
• He consistently chipped pucks to teammates, skated with authority and knew where to be most times.
"Great reads on backchecks," Richardson said. "Obviously reverse psychology works for him. He knows where they're going to make the plays, and he can get there and defend them."
Now, yes, this was just a meaningless game against a watered-down Blues roster.
But as debuts go, it was quite impressive.
Afterward, Bedard was asked how the pressure felt compared to playing in World Juniors. His answer proved once again that this kid is already wise beyond his years.
"I don't know. Pressure's something that's good," Bedard said. "If you have pressure on you, you're in a good situation. That's kind of how I look at it.
"It is a preseason game in the end. There's not a crazy amount of pressure. ... I've got a lot better than that out of myself hopefully going forward. But it was a good start."