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The impact of Connor Bedard

A rare weekday game brought a big crowd
Regina Pats phenom Connor Beard sneaks behind Rebels Craig Armstrong to score on a breakaway in the first period of WHL action at the Peavey Mart Centrium. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

On Tuesday ahead of the much-anticipated matchup between the Regina Pats and the Red Deer Rebels I knew the Peavey Mart Centrium would be jam-packed.

It’s no shock that Canadians have been eager to see hockey phenom Connor Bedard play since he shattered scoring records at the World Juniors.

The 17-year-old also led Team Canada to a gold medal lifting his already high celebrity status to new heights across the country.

So when I headed to the rink at 6:10 p.m. like I always do I expected to arrive a half hour before game time. But as I got closer to the Centrium the Bedard fever in Red Deer hit me like a wall.

A drive that normally took 15 minutes lasted nearly 50 minutes as I managed to reach my seat in the press box minutes before puck drop.

That’s when it really sunk in that this game would be anything but normal.

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house plus an additional 300 fans had standing-room tickets. This led to a franchise attendance record-setting night of 7,287 fans beating out a seven-year benchmark of 7,208 set on March 19, 2016, against Edmonton.

When you put it into perspective, the record beats out over 30 years of Red Deer Rebels’ history since they entered the league in the 1992-93 season. That overtakes a lot of great teams including the 2000-01 Memorial Cup championship squad that packed the Centrium on a regular basis.

The fans in the building came to see their team play but they also got to be a part of a rare historic event in junior hockey to see a once-in-a-lifetime type player in Bedard in front of a sold-out crowd.

After next summer it’ll cost hundreds of dollars to see him suit up in the NHL but for now, the fans can watch him play at an affordable price.

Bedard ensured the folks in central Alberta got their money’s worth and put on a show. In the first period, Bedard got a step on the Rebels’ defence after an outlet pass sprung him on a breakaway opportunity. In alone he dangled goaltender Rhett Stoesser out of position and placed it in the back of the net.

Even though the goal brought Regina within one of tying the game the home crowd couldn’t help but be in awe of the highlight-reel-type goal.

At the beginning of the second period, Bedard was back in his bag of tricks in the offensive zone. He threaded the needle with a cross-ice saucer pass through multiple defenders right on the stick of Alexander Suzdalev who fired it in.

At that moment I turned to a fellow reporter and said ‘that pass was amazing.’

It’s a guarantee I wasn’t the only one in the rink that night who spoke those words but that’s the impact of Connor Bedard.

You blink too slowly or you turn your head for a second and he’ll make you pay on the ice.

But perhaps the greatest moment of the evening came in overtime. I’ll admit heading into that extra period I was nervous for the Rebels.

You give a player like Bedard extra space on the ice in a three-on-three scenario he’ll go to work but Red Deer came to play.

Forward Jhett Larson scored the OT winner for the Rebels which sent the Centrium into a frenzy.

I’ve never heard the Centrium so loud before and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player who potted his 12th of the season.

I realize many who came to the game Tuesday night were there for Bedard but I hope the Rebels faithful continue to show up moving forward.

Not only does it create a fun atmosphere but more importantly it supports a team who have played great hockey this season and is the second-best team in the WHL.

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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