There was no circus atmosphere on Monday morning. There was no atmosphere at all.
The cameras, the notebooks and the tape recorders, everyone in their hands, all showed up at the Scotiabank Arena to meet hockey’s newest sensation, Connor Bedard, before the game, after the game, even during the game and to welcome, and what came of it On a listless Monday evening, it was the first time that Bedard did not appear in his already extraordinary professional career.
And another no-show early in the season for the Maple Leafs, who are still trying to figure out who they are, with two wins in three games early in the season, with the scheduler being the Leafs’ best friend. Monday night’s victory went to so many of the unnamed Chicago Blackhawks who went first overall last June, may be drafted first again next June, and in between all of that they are being babysat by a media relations team that specializes in production and with the Spoon fed your stars are invisible.
This is where the big differences lie between the NBA and NHL. The basketball mentality says that a star takes center stage. LeBron James has done media almost every day of his professional life. The Blackhawks didn’t do a perfunctory morning run Monday morning at Scotiabank Arena, which meant Bedard wasn’t allowed in before the game and after Chicago’s 4-1 win over the Leafs – repeat Chicago’s 4-1 win over the Leafs, please explain She told me that – and after the game, Bedard was nowhere to be found after the game.
Why, the Blackhawks staff was asked?
Because he didn’t score any points in the win.
I look at this from a perspective that not many are fortunate enough to have experienced. I’ve covered hundreds of games Wayne Gretzky played, especially early in his career, and no one ever hid him from the cameras, even when he had nothing to say. I covered Mario Lemieux’s rookie MVP appearance in the NHL All-Star Game, and even though Lemieux would have preferred never to do a single interview his entire career, he stood up that day the podium. My first meaningful encounter with Sidney Crosby was at the Memorial Cup in London, Ontario. He only gave interviews on days he ended with Y, and when he wasn’t on stage, his father wasn’t far behind.
It’s not easy being the next big thing or whatever you want to call it. My first long interview with Connor McDavid took place at an arena in Oakville before an Erie Otters preseason game. We talked for 40 minutes before the game. We talked after the game. Before he left the arena that afternoon, he stopped by and asked, “If I needed anything else.”
And he did something that day that Gretzky and no one had ever done to me before. He said, “If you need to find me at any time, you can find my number here.”
I never used the McDavid number. I only called Gretzky once. They do not take advantage of this access. They appreciate the opportunity.
It was special to see Bedard’s first game on TV, when the Blackhawks played Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. It wasn’t just his skating style or his shooting or his size or his speed that you marveled at: you noticed that, like all great players, the puck always seemed to follow him as it approached.
This was Gretzky’s early brilliance, learned from his father. Don’t go where the puck is, Walter told him: go where the puck will be.
They are built-in instincts that only the best of the best can understand. Gretzky was subtle like no one had ever been before. Lemieux was huge and graceful and powerful at the same time. Crosby had an intensity and balance to his skates, an edge brilliance that he could combine with so many other natural abilities: like Gretzky, like Lemieux, he was an absolute original. McDavid is from another planet. He is a rocket that shoots down the ice at a speed no one has ever known before. He is Tyreek Hill and Barry Sanders and Jim Brown all rolled into one player on skates.
And now it’s four games in the NHL for Bedard. The Blackhawks won two games and lost two. He scored a goal. He has three points in four games played. In every game, including the one that hit the post against the Maple Leafs where it looked like a goal, he left something behind, a shot or two on the pool table. At some point he will score these goals. The talent is so obvious. At some point soon he will score a goal, then two, maybe three.
It will happen. The Blackhawks end the first leg of Connor Bedard’s media and hockey tour with a game in Colorado against one of the most talented teams in hockey. What a career start. Game against Crosby begins. game in Montreal where he was booed every time he touched the puck, like Bobby Orr used to get booed at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Toronto crowd was good enough or bad enough or just Toronto enough not to boo at all on Monday night, even though there were more Bedard Blackhawks jerseys in the stands than you’d find on any other night of the season.
Four games, two wins, two losses, and now we say hello to Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon and two of the five best players in hockey, the 2022 Stanley Cup winner versus the likely 2029 Stanley Cup winner, the 44th .Corey Perry’s birthday coincides with his 24th NHL season.
Bedard only has four shots on goal against the Leafs on Monday, the fewest he has had in an NHL game on Monday. He played only 18:35, the first time he played less than 20 minutes.
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“I think he understands his role as an important ambassador for the game of hockey,” said Taylor Hall, once the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft but never a prodigy of Bedard’s caliber. “And he handles it so well. It doesn’t seem to bother him.”
Bedard doesn’t seem impressed. The Blackhawks themselves need to be less worried. There are times and places to hide Bedard after a victory. Toronto on Monday was not one of them.