The perfect match
by Henrik Manninen|26 SEP 2020
Connor Bedard starts practising on the ice for 2020/2021 at HV71 Jonkoping in Sweden before joining the WHL’s Regina Pats.
photo: Johan Freijd / HV71
Having only recently turned 15, he has already been labelled as a future Canadian superstar. The surprise arrival of Connor Bedard in Sweden has caused a buzz around HV71 Jonkoping where he currently is practising with two of the club’s junior teams.

“It was kind of unexpected I’d say. But because of the (COVID-19) virus, stuff has not gone to plan with the WHL. After Canada coming to Sweden was the second-best option, so I just thought it would be best for me to come here,” said Bedard, who is expected to stay in Sweden until the season gets underway in North America.

There was a stir of excitement around Jonkoping upon Bedard’s arrival on 11 September. Hockey-mad youngsters who previously been dazzled by the Canadians’ silky skills online were now able to observe him at first hand. Now into his second full week in Sweden, how is he coping with honing that trademark shot of his while signing all those autographs?

“I’ve only signed two-three, or let’s see, five autographs,” Bedard replied with a chuckle. “It’s been really good so far over here.”

The pronunciation of Jonkoping, picturesquely located on the southern banks of Sweden’s Lake Vattern, might still require a bit of practice for Bedard. That aside, the transition to life in Sweden from his native North Vancouver has been seamless.

“It hasn’t been much of a culture shock. Canadians are known for being pretty nice and here it’s pretty similar. It’s just a lot smaller I’d say. My apartment is 7-8 minutes ride from the rink on the bicycle. My sister is here with me, so it’s very special for both of us,” he said.

Bedard hit the headlines earlier this year when becoming the first player ever to be granted early entry into the Western Hockey League (WHL). A testament to his talent, none other than Wayne Gretzky picked up the phone from California to congratulate Bedard on his historical agreement sealed with the Regina Pats.
While Bedard’s talent is unquestionable, perhaps even more impressive is his relentless drive to better himself. It is what brought him across the Atlantic when COVID-19 concerns pushed out the start of the WHL season.

“The Swedish players are pretty skilled, so I hope to take away some of their style of play and also playing at a bigger rink. I’ve watched a lot of Swedish players in the NHL, so doing different skill work can certainly help me,” he said.

A firm favourite of his is Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks. The 21-year-old IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship gold medallist from 2018 burst on to the scene in the SHL with Vaxjo Lakers, before moving on to bigger and better things in the NHL.

“I am a big Canucks fan and I like his poise, he is never in a rush and always patient with the puck. He can do some pretty cool things, so watching him is pretty exciting,” said Bedard of Pettersson.

Now a similar sense of enthusiasm is felt by Bedard’s peers in Jonkoping. A tailor-made schedule has been created for the teenager from British Columbia, who skates with the club’s U18 and U20 teams. In return, HV71 Jonkoping has got a future model pro temporarily on their books.

“He looked at various options across the entire world and in the end opted for HV71, so I’d like to look at it as we are leading the way in developing players,” said Max Bohlin, head coach of HV71 Jonkoping’s U18 team.

“It’s a win-win situation. We are getting a player capable to do things at a very high level. His desire to improve and practise is extremely impressive and it will inspire our players. On top of that he is also a very positive and humble person, so the players have taken to him very well,” added Bohlin, impressed by what he has seen of the Canadian starlet since his arrival.

“With all the attributes he possesses – skating, shot, game intelligence and keeping his head up all the time – I look at him as a complete player for the future,” he said.

With two of his role-models, Connor McDavid playing with number 97 and Wayne Gretzky immortalised 99, fellow centre Bedard plays with 98 on his back. But despite all the hype surrounding him being widely tipped for future greatness, Bedard keeps his feet firmly on the ground.

“I think it’s pretty cool, but I don’t pay attention to it very much. I am still 15 and I haven’t accomplished anything in a professional league, so the work hasn’t really even started yet,” said Bedard.

With the WHL hopeful to get a 68-game schedule underway on 4 December, Bedard hopes his Swedish stint can help him hit the ground running in a season with plenty at stake.

Dazzling displays when lifting Regina Pats, the oldest major junior hockey franchise, back to its former glory could make Bedard a contender for a place on the Canada roster at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. Played in Plymouth and Ann Arbor in the United States between 15-25 April, it would be another significant ascent for a player aiming for the stars.

“Hopefully that tournament could go ahead. I hope that I can have a good enough year to make a case for myself to be part of that team. That would be pretty special,” said Bedard.