Bedard's big debut
by Andy POTTS|11 MAY 2024
Canada's Connor Bedard receives the congratulations of his team-mates after scoring on Great Britain during a 2024 IIHF World Championship game in Prague.
Connor Bedard’s much-anticipated World Championship debut brought him two goals - including the game winner - as Canada shot down a battling Britain in Prague with a 4-2 verdict.

The 18-year-old, who already tore up U18 and U20 Worlds in recent years, came to Czechia after plundering 61 points in his rookie year with the Blackhawks. And he announced himself in Prague with a couple of second-period goals that saw the defending champion ease away from a chippy opponent.

After the game, though, the teen sensation maintained the typical "team first" focus. "It's nice to score, but it's not something I'm thinking about right now," he said. "This is our first game and we've got a lot of areas to improve."

It was left to others to talk up Bedard's qualities. For Canada, captain Colton Parayko added: “He’s great player. Off the ice he works really hard, he really professional. It’s exciting to having a player like that on our team and we’re looking forward to seeing him evolve as the tournament goes on.”

And from the opposition, British goalscorer Ben O'Connor joked that it was hard to keep up with a player half his age. "These guys are in the NHL for a reason, we've been watching him all year an he's fantastic," O'Connor said. "It was pretty cool just to be out there sharing the ice with him."

Bedard opened his account in the 32nd minute, showing all his predatory instincts to pounce on a loose puck after Olen Zellweger floated a point shot that hit goalie Jackson Whistle on the helmet and sparked a scramble in front of his net.

That was Zellweger's second helper of the game and he drew warm words from Bedard after the pair rekindled a partnership from junior days. "He’s a stud," Bedard said. "I played against him in junior and one game in the NHL. I know he's not an easy guy to defend when he’s dancing around up top there. I’ve been lucky to play with him for a few tournaments now."

Four minutes later, Bedard struck again to finish off an exquisite end-to-end passing move. Nick Paul’s lay-off from beside the net was a thing of beauty, opening up the net for Bedard to fire home.

That gave the Canadians a 4-1 lead and put the result out of Britain’s reach. But Pete Russell’s team gave a brave account of itself in a game where few gave them any chance.

For a time in the first period, Bedard was upstaged by Liam Kirk. The 24-year-old, leading goalscorer in his last World Championship campaign in Riga in 2021, had the puck in the net inside three minutes only for Johnny Curran to impede goalie Joel Hofer as he attempted the screen. The Brits challenged the call, unsuccessfully, then killed their delay of game penalty.

But that wasn’t the end for the underdog: in the eighth minute, Kirk found the net a second time and there was no question about this goal. Evan Mosey set up his team-mate on the deep slot and a thunderous one-timer ripped home as Robert Dowd screened Hofer. That was Britain’s first goal on Canada since Kevin Conway scored late in 1994’s 2-8 reverse.

A wounded champion is a dangerous beast, and Canada responded immediately. Michael Bunting tied the scores just 30 seconds later, firing home from long range. GB goalie Jackson Whistle, who made his first save of a busy afternoon after 16 seconds, and also produced a fine block to deny Andrew Mangiapane from point-blank range, was unfortunate that his own defender obscured his view of Bunting’s shot.

Back on level terms, Canada pushed for more. A 12-3 shot count for the first period told its own story, but Britain defended courageously. Getting to the intermission with the game tied was a huge boost for the newly-promoted nation and won plenty of friends among the Czech crowd.

"I think we did ourselves proud out there," O'Connor added. "There are the best in the world and we skated with them tonight. We even took it to them at times, it's pretty cool. Last time we played Canada I think it was 8-0, so we've come a long way."

A long way, but not far enough. Canada got ahead early in the second period thanks to some great work from Brandon Hagel. He started the play with a strong forecheck behind the net, then raced to the doorstep and won a wrestling bout with defender Sam Ruopp before squeezing a Zellweger feed into the top corner.

Britain wasn’t quite done. A huge power play saw Canada penned into its own zone for more than two minutes. The PK was running on fumes, Dowd found the side netting, Kirk went close but the favourite hung tough and neutralized the danger.

Once back to full strength, Bedard’s pair took the game away from Britain. But there was still time for a highlight reel play from O'Connor to give the Barmy Army something to cheer. He collected a drop pass from Kirk, skipped between two defenders and lifted a backhand shot over Hofer to the amazement of almost everyone in the building.

"It’s something we work on, the D jump, slice through, get their wingers looking at the puck," O'Connor said. "Kirky made a great play, I got through the two guys coming down the left and put it on my backhand. I think it was more disbelief than anything but it's something I’ll never forget."

That was the only goal of the third period, another cause for British optimism ahead of the likely survival showdowns to come. And it set up an unlikely finale when Whistle headed to the bench as GB briefly went six-on-five in the closing moments before a Canadian power play closed out the game.

And captain Parayko warned that there's more to come as this team gels. "It was a good starting point," he concluded. "We did a lot of good things and there's something to build on for sure. I'm looking forward to getting better with this group."
Great Britain vs Canada - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship