Imagine for a moment that you are one of the best 14-year-old hockey players in the entire world. You have the chance to put yourself in the same company as NHL stars like John Tavares and Connor McDavid, but make history in one of the best and most storied major junior hockey leagues in the world. While it is a level of excitement that is unimaginable to most, it is not hard to picture all of the stress that you would assume must be associated with it.
Having all of the hockey worlds’ eyes watching you is quite exciting, yet also adds an element of stress…. or at least one would assume. Connor Bedard and his family, however, were able to put all of that aside while Connor was in the process of becoming the first WHL eligible player to be granted exceptional status.
“He just really loves to play hockey, so for the most part for him, it was just really a lot of fun,” Mrs. Bedard said. “The love for hockey is what kept Connor grounded and focused on hockey during the season, or at least it was one of the factors, according to Connor’s mother. In what could have been a stressful time, the love of going to the rink everyday and playing hockey was all that the 14-year-old phenom needed to focus on while in the midst of the season.
It is important to remember that when someone is applying for exceptional status, they are only 14/15-years-old. The player’s family plays a major role in helping guide their child through the process, but it is important to remember that these parents have never really been through anything like this in their lifetimes either. In order to effectively help guide their child through the process, being able to communicate with Hockey Canada is quite important.
The players are also a very important part of the process and help alleviate stress from the family. 14 may seem like a young age for a hockey player to have representation, but for young stars like Connor Bedard, it happens to be quite common. These agents and agencies for that matter are key for helping make the road to exceptional status as stress-free and easy as possible.
At the end of the day, focusing on the season was the most important thing that Connor could do. It was important not to get sidetracked with the exceptional status process or letting the thought of receiving the “exceptional” title get into his head.
“The experience could have been very stressful. We just had so much support and guidance. Of course, there were stressful times, but just throughout, the communication with Hockey Canada and we had so much support from Newport agency and Greg and Donald and Craig (agents).” There were obviously going to be stressful times during the ordeal, but Mrs. Bedard credits the support of Hockey Canada and Newport agency for helping her son as well as herself and her family make the experience as enjoyable and stress-free as can be.
As much support as the Bedard family got off of the ice, it was the support on the ice that helped Connor out as well. His coach prepared him for the journey and helped him focus on hockey amidst all of the excitement. His teammates were also a major form of support for Connor all season and helped him focus on playing hockey and not any of the external stress.
One of the big considerations that are taken into account to determine whether or not a player should be granted exceptional status is their maturity and mental strength. The CHL and Hockey Canada want to make sure you can handle the stress and pressure of playing major junior at such a young age and are able to handle the “exceptional” title. No matter how mature and strong anyone is, there are going to be times where the pressure gets to you, especially for a 14-year-old.
Bedard admitted that at times during the season, if he was having a bad game, it was hard not to think about the title on the line. For the most part, he just kept it at the back of his mind, but as with any athlete, no matter the age or level, there are going to be times when you feel the pressure. But it is the ability to put that aside and go out there on a daily basis to do what you love that forges a pathway to exceptionalism.
“Well for me, I mean, there wasn’t really any added stress. I just kinda got to play. My coach really prepared me well and all my teammates helping me. So for me, it was kind of just in the back of my head. I didn’t really have to think about it too much. Obviously, some games, if you’re playing bad or something, you might think of it, but for the most part, it was pretty easy to just go out there and play.”
The exceptional status process is full of surprises. Even the announcement can come as a surprise. No matter how many contacts the Bedard family had with Hockey Canada, finding out that Connor had made history as the first WHL eligible player to be granted exceptional status was a surprise. “To be honest, we were really surprised with the announcement today,” Mrs. Bedard said.
Stress can be a major deterrent for many people in pursuing their dreams. Although one cannot easily just take away the stress in their lives, Connor Bedard’s path this season to exceptional status highlights the importance of having a strong support system who are with you every step of the way. Having the support of his family, coaches, teammates and Hockey Canada saw the expected first overall WHL draft pick accomplish a feat in which none before him have done.