SIMMONS: Hiding Connor Bedard from the media is no way to market and sell a superstar

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There was no circus atmosphere on Monday morning. There wasn’t any atmosphere at all.

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The cameras and the notebooks and the tape recorders all those who hold them all showed up at the Scotiabank Arena to meet and greet hockey’s newest sensation, Connor Bedard, before the game, after the game, even during the game, and what they wound up with on a listless Monday night was the first semi-no-show of Bedard’s already exceptional professional career.

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And another early season no-show for the trying-to-figure-out-who-they-are Maple Leafs, with two wins in three games in the early season, the schedule maker being the Leafs best friend. The victory Monday night came from so many of the no-name Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted first last June, may draft first again this coming June, and in between all that they will be babied and spoon fed by a media relations staff specializing in making their stars invisible.

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This is where the NBA and NHL differ so much. The basketball mentality is that a star is front and centre. LeBron James has done media just about every day of his professional life. The Blackhawks didn’t do the perfunctory morning skate at the Scotiabank Arena on Monday morning, which meant no access to Bedard before the game and after Chicago’s 4-1 over the Leafs — repeat Chicago’s 4-1 win over the Leafs, someone please explain — and after the game Bedard was nowhere to be found after the game.

Why, the Blackhawks staff was asked?

Because he didn’t score any points in the victory.

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I come at this with a perspective not many are fortunate to have experienced. I covered hundreds of games Wayne Gretzky played, especially early in his career, and no one ever hid him from the cameras, even when he had nothing to say. I covered Mario Lemieux’s rookie appearance in the NHL all-star game, where he won the MVP, and much as Lemieux would have loved to have spent his entire career never doing a single interview, he came to the podium that day. My first exposure to Sidney Crosby in any meaningful way came at the Memorial Cup in London, Ont. He only did interviews in days ending in Y and when he wasn’t around to take the stage, his father wasn’t far behind.

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It’s not easy being the next Great One or next whatever you want to call him. My first long interview with Connor McDavid came in an arena in Oakville, before an Erie Otters pre-season game. We talked before the game for 40 minutes. We talked after the game. Before leaving the arena in the afternoon, he stopped by to ask: “If I needed anything else.”

And he did something that day that Gretzky and no one else had ever done with me before. He said: “If you need to find me at any time, here’s my number.”

I’ve never used the McDavid number. I called Gretzky just once. You don’t take advantage of that kind of access. You appreciate the opportunity.

There was something special about watching Bedard’s first game on television, with the Blackhawks playing Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him. It wasn’t just his skating or his shot or his size or his speed that you marvelled at: You noticed, that like all great players, the puck seemed to follow him has much as he went to it.

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That was the early brilliance of Gretzky, taught by his father. Don’t go where the puck is, Walter told him: Go where the puck is going to be.

It’s built-in instincts that only the best of best can comprehend. Gretzky was subtle like no one has ever been subtle before. Lemieux was huge and graceful and powerful all at exactly the same time. Crosby has had an intensity and a balance on his skates, edging brilliance, to combine with so many other natural skills: Like Gretzky, like Lemieux, he has been a complete original. McDavid is of another planet. He is a rocket shooting down the ice, at a speed no one has known before. He is Tyreek Hill and Barry Sanders and Jim Brown, all combined in one player on skates.

And now there is four games for Bedard in the NHL. The Blackhawks have won two games, lost two. He has scored one goal. He has three points in four games played. In each game, including hitting the post against the Maple Leafs on what looked to be a goal, he has left something behind, a shot or two on the pool table. Eventually, he will be scoring those goals. The talent is that apparent. Any night soon he will score a goal, then two, maybe three.

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It’s going to happen. The Blackhawks finish the first stage of the Connor Bedard media and hockey tour with a game in Colorado against one of hockey’s most talented teams. What a way to begin a career. Game against Crosby to start. Game in Montreal where he was booed every time he touched the puck, the way Bobby Orr used to be booed at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Toronto crowd was good enough or bad enough or just Toronto enough to not boo at all Monday night, although there were more Bedard Blackhawks’ jerseys in the stands that you will find any other night of the season.

Four games, two wins, two losses, and now say hello to Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon and two of hockey’s five best players, the Stanley Cup champion from 2022, against the likely Stanley Cup champions of 2029, which will coincide with Corey Perry’s 44th birthday and his 24th NHL season.

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Bedard has just four shots on goal Monday against the Leafs, the fewest he has had in any NHL game to date on Monday. He played just 18:35, the first time he has played fewer than 20 minutes.

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“I think he understands his role as a major ambassador for the game of hockey,” said Taylor Hall, who was once the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft but never a prodigy of Bedard’s stature. “And he’s handling it so well. He doesn’t seem to be fazed by it.”

Bedard doesn’t seem fazed by it. The Blackhawks need to be less fazed themselves. There are times and places to hide Bedard after a win. Toronto on Monday wasn’t one of them.

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Originally posted 2023-10-17 03:27:48.