Pats, Bedard back on the ice for WHL training camp

The Regina Pats’ training camp got underway on Friday at the Co-operators centre with 42 skaters participating.

“They’ve all looked really good, you can see that Connor [Bedard]’s matured and he’s taken a step,” Dave Struch, the Pats head coach, said.

The 16-year-old played with the Pats in Regina’s WHL hub in 2020, collecting 28 points in 15 games in his rookie season. Bedard was the first player in WHL history to be given exceptional player status, allowing him to play a full season as a 15-year-old.

The Pats are preparing for the Connor craze once fans can attend games. Friday’s training camp had more spectators than expected for a preseason skate.

“It’s going to be around us, that’s just the reality of it,” Struch said. “The sooner we move forward with it, the better off we all are. Connor, at 16 years old has already experienced a lot of this.”

Bedard was selected to represent Canada at the Under 18 World Championships in Texas in 2021. The West Vancouver product was second among all skaters with 14 points (7 goals, 7 assists).

Zack Stringer was playing on a line with Bedard during practice on Friday, after being acquired by the Pats via Lethbridge in mid-August.

“Obviously he’s a generational player so you want to be either on his line or on the same team as him,” Stringer said.

Struch said they’ll be testing different line combinations, but the duo is expected to play together.

“Zack’s a go to the net type of guy and Connor likes putting pucks to the net so you can read into how you want, we hope that it works out that way,” Struch said.

“Was good to meet him and talk to him,” Bedard said of Stringer. “He’s a really nice guy and a really good player. Obviously he went top 10 in the [WHL] draft and is going to an NHL camp so that’s a really good guy to pick up.”

Stringer is one of five Pats who are attending NHL training camps this season. The 18 year-old was passed up in the NHL draft, but is hoping to be selected in 2022. He was invited to attend the Minnesota Wild’s camp starting Sep. 13.

“Not getting drafted, being a camp invite you want to go there and prove that you’re meant to be there and try and get signed,” Stringer said.

Bedard won’t be eligible for the NHL Draft until 2023, but looks forward to hearing about his teammates’ experience.

“It’s gonna be cool for them to get that experience and I think all of us can ask questions and learn a lot from them,” Bedard said.

The Pats hosted the Memorial Cup in 2018, finishing second. Since then, the club has been in a rebuild stage. However, that tune is changing this year.

“We’ve already talked about being above average today,” Struch said. “We need to build on that every day and every practice.”

The Pats will face the Winnipeg Ice at the Brandt Centre in their first preseason test on Friday, Sept. 10.