Blanking Bedard Winnipeg Ice have kept Pats’ scoring sensation off the score sheet all season

Connor Bedard presents a unique and terrifying challenge to WHL coaches.

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Connor Bedard presents a unique and terrifying challenge to WHL coaches.

The 16-year-old Regina Pats superstar centre has scored 49 goals in 59 games this season, lighting up Eastern Conference rivals with his speed, astonishing release and blistering shot.

One team — the league-leading Winnipeg Ice — is the exception to the rule.

In four head-to-head meetings with the Ice, Bedard has no goals and zero points. In six career games against Winnipeg, Bedard is scoreless and, no doubt, frustrated.

“When I saw him at 15 I said, ‘I’ve never seen a 15-year-old like that,’” said Winnipeg head coach James Patrick on Tuesday as his team prepared for the arrival of the Pats.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES “When I saw him (Connor Bedard) at 15 I said, ‘I’ve never seen a 15-year-old like that,’” said Winnipeg head coach James Patrick on Tuesday as his team prepared for the arrival of the Pats.

“And I watch in the pre-scout (video) and I watch stuff he does: He can drag a puck under a stick and shoot the puck as accurate and as hard as I’ve seen. Like (Auston) Matthews does. When he’s coming down and the defenceman’s got his stick out he still can drag it under and shoot. He’s got speed, he can shoot the puck and he can make plays. We’ve been able to play good against him by committee,” added Patrick.

The committee approach has been working well for the Ice. With three excellent scoring lines and a sturdy, under-appreciated defensive corps, Patrick has a wealth of depth and experience to draw upon. Centre Jack Finley and defenceman Tanner Brown, a pair of mid-season trade acquisitions, have become essential parts of the process.

How do they deal with the wunderkind Bedard, who is projected to be a high 2023 NHL draft pick?

“It’s a bit of planning, a bit of something else,” said Brown, who has replaced Nolan Orzeck on the club’s No. 1 defensive pairing with Carson Lambos in recent games. “It’s also practice — working on one-on-ones and stuff like that.”

“And I watch in the pre-scout (video) and I watch stuff he (Connor Bedard) does: He can drag a puck under a stick and shoot the puck as accurate and as hard as I’ve seen.” – Winnipeg head coach James Patrick

Lambos said plotting a defensive strategy for Bedard is straightforward.

“It’s the same as playing against any other team’s top lines — you kind of want to take away their time and space and not even let them get to the spot where they’re gonna have a chance to score,” said Lambos.

“You try to play in their end and that doesn’t just go for the (defence) but the forwards, too — holding onto pucks when he’s on the ice and not making any turnovers that allows him to attack in transition.”

With blizzard conditions brewing in Manitoba, the WHL postponed Thursday’s Pats-Ice game at Wayne Fleming Arena with no rescheduled date announced.

LIGHTING IT UP

Regina Pats star Connor Bedard has scored at least once on 10 of 11 Eastern Conference foes during the 2021-22 WHL regular season. The Winnipeg Ice is the lone exception. Here’s a list of the damage done by the 16-year-old centre so far:

Prince Albert Raiders: 8 goals
Swift Current Broncos: 8 goals
Calgary Hitmen: 8 goals
Moose Jaw Warriors: 6 goals
Medicine Hat Tigers: 5 goals
Lethbridge Hurricanes: 5
Saskatoon Blades: 4 goals
Edmonton Oil Kings: 3 goals
Red Deer Rebels: 1 goal
Brandon Wheat Kings: 1 goal
Winnipeg Ice: none

Friday’s Regina-Winnipeg game remains on the schedule.

Even without last change on the road, Patrick has the advantage of a deep forward corps with more than one option for a shutdown line. Finley, a 6-6, 220-pounder, has been his first choice as a shutdown centre when matching lines with Regina head coach John Paddock.

“I know in Regina when we played them, they wanted to keep Bedard away from Finley so I just kept throwing (Cole) Muir’s line out (with Owen Pederson and Jakin Smallwood)… So he didn’t put Bedard out the next shift and then I put Finley back out.

“One time we went three shifts in a row and he didn’t put Bedard’s line out. So he was keeping him away from those two guys and then I put (Conor) Geekie out and I said, ‘I’ll do this. If he’s going to play Bedard’s line every fifth shift, I’ll live with that.’ ”

Combining a pair of lefties such as Lambos and Brown is less conventional but it’s been working for the Ice.

“He’s pretty comfortable there,” said Lambos of Brown. “He’s played there pretty much since he’s gotten here for us and he sees the ice really well on his off hand, and so I think he’s just as capable of making the plays over there as he would be on his left side.”

Patrick likes the Brown-Lambos combo but the right-handed Orzeck remains in the mix.

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES In four head-to-head meetings with the Ice, Connor Bedard has no goals and zero points. In six career games against Winnipeg, Bedard is scoreless and, no doubt, frustrated.

“I don’t know if I’ll play them together (long term) but there might be a minute left in the game and I might put them together,” said Patrick of the Lambos-Brown duo. “I want them to have a little more familiarity with each other. I mean, Nolan (Orzeck’s) played outstanding with Carson all year and that’s been a good pair for us.”

Having clinched top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Ice announced they will host their first two post-season games on Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m.

Winnipeg’s opponent will be the conferences’ No. 8 seed, with the Swift Current Broncos, Calgary Hitmen, Regina and Prince Albert Raiders all still in contention for the final playoff spot.

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Regina Pats centre Connor Bedard has scored 49 goals in 59 games this season, lighting up Eastern Conference rivals with his speed, astonishing release and blistering shot.
Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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