Heckles for Bedard not surprising – taunts will always be part of major junior hockey

Darren Steinke

Special to the Herald

With all the attention Connor Bedard has received, it was inevitable he would get heckled.

With seemingly every high-profile media outlet especially at the NHL level constantly saying how great the 16-year-old Regina Pats phenom centre is for about the last three years, the attention by itself will bring out haters. There will even be people out there that didn’t start out hating Bedard end up developing a dislike for the North Vancouver, B.C., product due to all the attention he has received.

Last Friday, the Saskatoon Blades drew a season high 7,523 spectators to the SaskTel Centre for a game against Bedard and the Pats. While the Blades had a children’s night promotion going on, it was obvious Bedard was a big drawing card.

The Blades won the contest 3-1 and that final score was pinned on the scoreboard for the last 16:49 of the contest. Saskatoon ended Bedard’s streak of going 21 straight games of recording at least one point, which is the longest such streak in the WHL this season.

With 11:11 remaining in the third and again with 5:45 left to play in the frame, some of the spectators started the “overrated” chant for Bedard. Bedard was also subject to other heckling in the game.

Of course with a large number of eyes following everything associated with Bedard outside of the fanbases of the Pats and Blades, word of the “overrated” chant gained a little extra reaction on social media lines. Naturally, Pats fans chimed in that the taunt was classless. People who have no fan connection with either team or the WHL said the taunt was classless referencing the fact Bedard is 16-years-old.

As I’ve gotten older, I personally have grown more uncomfortable with taunting players who are still in their teenage years. It is something I wouldn’t do.

The reality is that for as long as major junior hockey or junior hockey has existed for that matter, heckling has been part of the game, and it will be part of the game for the foreseeable future.

I remember a visit I once had with former Blades owner Jack Brodsky. He told me that the fans paid money for the ticket, and if they don’t like the product they see on the ice, they have a right to “boo” or voice their displeasure with the product. The context of that visit did focus on the hometown fans being critical of the home team.

Major junior hockey is supposed to help prepare players for life in the professional ranks, and dealing with hecklers is part of that training too. If you don’t learn how to deal with that in rinks with 5,000 spectators, how do you deal with that in professional rinks with 18,000 spectators?

Of course, there is a line. Fans shouldn’t do anything that physically harms a player, yell something derogatory based on race or scream you wished a certain player was dead.

During my travels, I have been in WHL rinks where I have heard a spectator yell about wishing a player was dead, but at least the last instance of that was over 11 years ago. Wishing a player was dead is something that is never cool at any time.

Overall in Bedard’s case, I suspect he has developed thick enough skin, and he can chuckle about an “overrated” chant.

With that noted, Bedard and the Pats visit Prince Albert this coming Saturday to take on the Raiders at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. The Raiders drew a season high crowd of 2,962 spectators to their 2,580 seat home rink the last time Bedard was in town on February 18.

He netted the OT winner in a 5-4 Pats victory that night. In the past, Raiders fans have gotten on opposing players they disliked like former Saskatoon Blades centre Kirby Dach in recent times, but they did it in a way no lines were crossed.

Still, there are a lot more eyes following Bedard’s every move, so hopefully those that decide to heckle are mindful about not going over the line.

Ice make case as WHL’s best team

The Winnipeg Ice are gaining more of an edge in the debate of who might be the WHL’s best team this season.

At the start of the season, the Ice often occupied first place in the WHL’s overall standings, and when they did slip out of the top spot, they were inside the top four overall in the league. They’ve usually shared the debate with the Central Division leading Edmonton Oil Kings, the B.C. Division leading Kamloops Blazers and the U.S. Division leading Everett Silvertips.

Going into action on Tuesday, the Ice were riding an 11-game winning streak that vaulted them back into first overall in the league. With a 47-9-3-2 record, the Ice, who have locked up top spot in the East Division, lead the 46-13-2-1 Oil Kings by four points for first overall.

Due to getting rescheduled home games that were postponed due to COVID-19 capacity restriction in January and February in Manitoba, the Ice had to play 15 games in the span of 27 days in March.

The Ice posted a 12-0-1-1 record in the first 14 contests of that stretch that was slated to close Tuesday with a home game against the Moose Jaw Warriors. The Ice showed off their depth during that run.

Going into action on Tuesday, the Ice have points in their previous 15 games posting 13 wins, an overtime loss and a shootout loss.

The Ice have nine players so far who have recorded 40 more points this season in Matthew Savoie, Connor McClennon, Mikey Milne, Conor Geekie, Jakin Smallwood, Benjamin Zloty, Zachary Benson, Jack Finley and Carson Lambos. They are getting solid goaltending from Daniel Hauser and Gage Alexander.

If the Ice enter the postseason playing as well as they are now, that could make the difference in them going all the way to the WHL final and winning it.

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