LANGLEY, B.C. — Connor Bedard knows a thing or two about playing in big games.
In the last six months, the 17-year-old centre has played for gold in the world junior hockey championships not once but twice — and he helped Canada to victory on both occasions.
The spotlight will be on Bedard once again when he headlines the Kubota CHL/NHL top prospects game in Langley, B.C., on Wednesday. It's a marquee matchup in front of a hometown crowd but the native of North Vancouver, B.C., seems unphased by the stakes.
“I prepare the same way every single game," he said. "Obviously there’s going to be bigger games than others, but I treat every one basically the same and I think that kind of helps me mentally going in.”
While the annual game is a showcase of the Canadian Hockey League's top talents ahead of the summer's NHL entry draft, many watching on Wednesday will need no introduction to Bedard.
The five-foot-10, 185-pound forward of the Regina Pats has been wowing onlookers for years with dazzling plays. He set numerous scoring records at the world juniors last month and leads the Western Hockey League in points with 81 points (39 goals, 42 assists) in 33 appearances this season.
Bedard's opponents are well aware of his lethal skill set.
“Hopefully he doesn’t embarrass me too bad out there," said Colby Barlow, a left-winger for the Ontario Hockey League's Owen Sound Attack who'll captain Team White on Wednesday. "But it’ll be cool to play against him. He’s obviously a fantastic player.”
All 40 of the athletes in the matchup are top talents who have been featured in the upper echelons of the NHL Central Scouting's midseason rankings earlier this month.
They've had just one practice together, but Bedard — captain of Team Red — is confident the players will find chemistry out on the ice.
“It makes it easier when the players are as good as they are here, so I think that it definitely helps," he said. "But whenever you're coming in with guys, play is going to be a little different. But I think we can figure that out pretty quick.”
Zach Benson, a left-winger for the WHL's Winnipeg Ice, is expected to line up with Bedard for the game.
He's played against the young superstar before and is looking forward to being on the same side for once.
“You don't have to do much preparation because (Bedard's) just so good," Benson said. "But I think you’ve just got to find him in the soft areas and then give them the puck when he's got a full head of steam. And he's a special player, he'll put it in the back of the net.”
There won't be any points on the line but players are acutely aware that dozens of NHL scouts and managers will be watching in the stands.
Guys won't be taking it easy on one another, Bedard said. He remembers watching big hits and speedy play in last year's game.
“We're all competitive and no one wants to lose," he said. "So I think we're going to be playing hard. And, I don't know what the score is going to be or anything, I know everyone will be competing and trying to win.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press