The Everett Silvertips received the full Connor Bedard experience Saturday.
Everett went head-to-head against Bedard, the player considered the next big thing in hockey, for the first — and likely only — time when the Tips traveled to face the Regina Pats on Saturday night. And although Bedard did his thing, Everett came away with a 3-2 victory.
Bedard, a 17-year-old center from North Vancouver, B.C., is hockey’s newest golden boy. He was the first player in WHL history to be granted exceptional status and allowed to play in the league full-time as a 15-year-old. Last season as a 16-year-old, he became the youngest player in WHL history to eclipse 50 goals in a single campaign. This season he’s the runaway WHL points leader with 29 (13 goals 16 assists) in 15 games, and he’s the consensus top prospect for the 2023 NHL draft, despite it being a banner year for draft prospects. He has NHL teams tanking to get a better shot at drafting him, and he’s all but certain to be playing in the NHL next season.
And Bedard did not disappoint against Everett. He showed off the full range of his abilities, including dazzling stickhandling skills and a lightning-quick shot release. Bedard finished the game with a goal and an assist, and Everett goaltender Braden Holt was called upon multiple times to stop Bedard after he’d created scoring opportunities for himself.
However, Everett had the last laugh. Austin Roest, who’s tied for second in the league in scoring behind Bedard, made a game-winning play with just 1 minute, 19 seconds remaining when he won the puck along the left boards and quickly moved it to teammate Jackson Berezowski in the corner. Berezowski’s touch pass to the high slot ended up bouncing around skates, and Roest latched onto it, firing through traffic and into the corner for the goal that gave Everett a 3-2 victory.
The victory meant Everett started its six-game road trip through the East Division with a split, as the Tips opened with a 4-1 loss at Moose Jaw the previous night. Everett is now 8-4-0-0 and in third place in the U.S. Division, two points behind first-place Seattle, which has played two fewer games.
Three stars of the week
Third star: Holt. The 19-year-old netminder’s numbers from the two games were solid, if not spectacular: 1-1 with a 2.53 goals against average and .915 save percentage. But the numbers don’t indicate how sharp he needed to be, and the performances represented a strong rebound from a couple of rough outings.
Second star: Berezowski. The 20-year-old winger had two goals and an assist across the two games, scoring the team’s lone goal against Moose Jaw before putting up a two-point performance against Regina.
First star: Roest. The 18-year-old center’s breakout campaign continued as he played the starring role in Saturday’s victory over Regina, making the play to set up Jesse Heslop’s opener and scoring the game-winner himself. He has 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 12 games.
The week ahead
Everett finishes off its swing through the East Division this week when it plays four games in five nights beginning Tuesday.
The stretch begins with a daunting game Tuesday against Winnipeg (13-1-0-0), a loaded team with three first-round NHL draft picks in 18-year-old forwards Matthew Savoie (five goals, seven assists) and Connor Geekie (nine goals, five assists) and 19-year-old defenseman Carson Lambos (two goals, eight assists), as well as a sure-fire 2023 first-rounder in 17-year-old forward Zach Benson (seven goals, 12 assists).
On Wednesday the Tips finish off their stay in Manitoba with a game at Brandon (6-7-1-0), which also has a top 2023 NHL draft prospect in 18-year-old forward Nate Danielson (five goals, seven assists).
After that Everett heads back to Saskatchewan on Friday to take on Saskatoon (10-3-0-0), a team coached by former Everett winger and assistant Brennan Sonne. The Blades have received stellar goaltending from 18-year-olds Austin Elliott (5-1-0-0, 1.66 goals against average, .939 save percentage) and Ethan Chadwick (5-2-0-0, 1.87 goals against average, .927 save percentage).
The trip wraps up Saturday at Prince Albert (3-9-2-0), which is led by a first-round NHL draft pick in 19-year-old defenseman Nolan Allan (two goals, two assists).