Bedard named IIHF Male Player of the Year
by Andrew PODNIEKS|19 JUN 2023
Canada's Connor Bedard #16 hoists the championship trophy after a 3-2 Gold Medal Game overtime win against Czechia at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship at Scotiabank Centre on January 5, 2023 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Tim Austen
He doesn’t turn 18 for a month, but Canadian forward Connor Bedard already has three IIHF gold medals to his name—one for a U18 win in 2021 in Texas, and two for wins at the most recent World Junior Championships (in Edmonton last August and in Halifax this past January). And now he has another IIHF honour to his name—inaugural winner of the IIHF Male Player of the Year as voted on by media and IIHF Family from around the world.
“This is such a huge honour,” Bedard said from his home in British Columbia after getting a phone call from IIHF President Luc Tardif with the news. “I’m not sure how to compare it to others I’ve received, but it’s pretty incredible to receive this award with all the unbelievable players that have competed in the IIHF this season and the amazing players that were nominated for this award.”
The honour caps off an exceptional season and stunning junior career which will likely come to an end when Bedard gets selected first overall by Chicago at the NHL Entry Draft later this month.
Canada's Connor Bedard #16 during Preliminary Round - Group A action against Czechia at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship at Scotiabank Centre on December 26, 2022 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
Bedard captured 31.8 per cent of total votes, but the battle for second was notably close. Latvian goalie Arturs Silovs had 19.6 per cent of the vote, just ahead of Swiss forward Andres Ambuhl, 19.2 per cent. German defender Moritz Seider was a distant fourth with 14.3 per cent while another Canadian teenager, Adam Fantilli, had 11.9 percent. German JJ Peterka (2.1 per cent) and Czech Dominik Kubalik (1.0 per cent) also received votes from an international panel that included media from 22 countries and IIHF Family from around the world.
The Male Player of the Year announcement comes shortly after Hilary Knight of the United States was named IIHF Female Player of the Year.
Bedard had perhaps the greatest single World Junior Championship tournament in IIHF history. He led the event in scoring with 23 points, which was nine points better than American forward Logan Cooley. That difference was the greatest in World Junior history, and the 61 per cent difference between top scorer and second was also the biggest gap. Bedard also led the tournament in goals (9) and assists (14), marking only the fourth time ever that a player has led each of the three scoring categories outright (Vladimir Ruzicka (TCH) 1983, Raimo Helminen (FIN) 1984, Brayden Schenn (CAN) 2011).
Canada won the gold in Halifax thanks to Dylan Guenther’s overtime winner against Czechia, which all these months later remains embedded in Bedard’s memory.
“The highlight from last year was definitely when Dylan Guenther scored the overtime winner and we realized we won the gold and accomplished a childhood dream,” Bedard recalled. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
Bedard scored two game-winning goals in the team’s six wins, notably the overtime winner against Slovakia which instantly became one of the greatest goals in U20 history after he dipsy-doodled through three players before deking goalie Adam Gajan into next week. To no one’s surprise, Bedard was named tournament MVP. In all, he has 17 goals and 36 points in just 16 World Junior games.
Canada's Connor Bedard #16 plays the puck while USA’s Luke Hughes #43 defends during Semifinal Round action at 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship at Scotiabank Centre on January 4, 2023 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
In addition to his historic World Junior tournament, Bedard made all sorts of history with the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League. Despite missing a month for the 2023 IIHF World Juniors, he led the league in scoring with 143 points in just 57 games. His 71 goals averaged out to more than a goal a game all year, and his points total, which included a 35-game scoring streak, also topped all of junior hockey across Canada. As a result, Bedard became the first player to win the CHL’s top three awards in one year—Player of the Year, Top Prospect, and Top Scorer.
Silovs gave Bedard a run for his money in the voting thanks to the goalie’s incredible play at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. He led Latvia to a bronze medal, the first top-level medal of any kind for the small but hockey-loving nation. Along the way, Silovs won seven games and sported a 2.20 goals-against average. Like Bedard, he also won all three end-of-tournament honours—MVP, Directorate Award Best Goalie, and All-Star Team/Goalie. This season, he also made his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks.
Ambuhl extended his records for most IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships (18) and most games played (131) and scored the game-winning goals against both Canada and Czechia at the World Championship. He also became the top Swiss scorer in World Championship play and captained HC Davos in the Swiss National League.
Seider also helped his team to an historic performance at the World Championship, taking Germany to the gold-medal game for the first time since 1930. The 22-year-old had assists on the only two German goals in that game, a 5-2 loss to Canada, which still secured Germany’s first silver medal since 1953. He led the team in ice time, averaging 21:31 a game.
Fantilli, 18, made his own history in 2023 by winning a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship and IIHF Ice Hockey F IIHFWorld Championship in the same season, only the second Canadian to ever claim that double (Jonathan Toews) and only the 11th player ever (and second youngest). In addition to this IIHF double, Fantilli was the most dominant player in the NCAA this past season, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the MVP, only the third freshman (i.e., rookie) to win the coveted honour after Paul Kariya and Jack Eichel. He also led the NCAA in scoring with 65 points in just 35 games with the University of Michigan.
A teammate of Seider’s, Peterka was named the IIHF Directorate Award Best Forward as well as to the Media All-Star Team for the 2023 WM. He tied for second in tournament scoring with 12 points in ten games (six goals, six assists) and played in the NHL this past season, recording 12 goals and 32 points with the Buffalo Sabres.
Although the Czechs won only four of eight games at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Kubalik scored the game winner in two of those (Kazakhstan, Norway) and also had a hat trick against Slovenia. He led the 2023 IIHF WM in goals (eight) and power-play goals (six). Kubalik was named to the Media All-Star Team as a forward. In league play, he skated for the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL, finishing his fourth season with 20 goals and 45 points.
But today belongs to Bedard, whose exceptional season is an inspiring reminder that dreams do come true if you work hard enough. “I keep all my medals in my bedroom,” he said. “I brought the World Junior medal to Regina with me after the tournament, and then brought it home when our season ended.”
The IIHF Male Player of the Year looks back to dreams accomplished, but Bedard still has dreams that lie ahead. As the IIHF and NHL work towards more international participation—be it a World Cup or the Olympics—Bedard can still hope to accomplish more.
Revealing his wish list of linemates for any potential international tournaments at the senior level, Bedard said: “My dream linemates would have to be Sidney Crosby and Matthew Barzal. Crosby has been my idol since childhood, and I know Barzal really well. I get to skate with him lots in the summers, so that would be pretty cool if we got the chance to represent Canada together one day.”