ARLINGTON, VA– 2023 first overall pick Connor Bedard spent Tuesday at the Capitals’ practice facility as a participant in the NHLPA Rookie Showcase. Though he’ll be playing nearly 600 miles away in Chicago, Bedard has ties to DC through friends Alexander Suzdalev and Andrew Cristall.
Suzdalev shared a line with Bedard for much of the 2022-23 season with the Regina Pats, while Cristall and Bedard met as children while playing in Vancouver and now play in a roller-hockey league together.
Both players earned a shout-out during Bedard’s press conference Tuesday, where the Blackhawk-to-be highlighted the skills he’s gotten to see up close.
“I love him,” Bedard said of Suzdalev. “It’s not easy to come over from Europe and adjust, but he just got better every game. He was one of the best players in the league.”
He first played with Suzdalev in Sweden during a short stint with HV71’s junior teams. Suzdalev would make the jump to North America a few years later, joining Bedard on the WHL’s Regina Pats for the 2022-23 campaign.
Suzdalev scored more than a point per game in his rookie season, registering 86 points (38g, 48a) in 66 contests. That performance earned him the WHL’s Rookie of the Month award on three separate occasions, and Suzdalev was ultimately named to the CHL’s All-Rookie Team.
Many of those points came alongside Bedard, who recorded an awe-inspiring season of his own. He earned 143 points (71g, 72a) in just 57 games for the Pats, becoming the first player in the league to hit 140 points since 1995-96.
Suzdalev shared his own high opinion on Bedard while talking to RMNB back in April.
“[He’s a] great leader in the locker room,” he said. “Leads by good examples and I knew him before too when he was in Sweden so it was pretty easy to talk to him. We’re pretty close. Just a very nice guy and sets good examples.”
Though Bedard hadn’t played with Suzdalev until his teenage years, he and Cristall’s friendship goes far further back.
“[Cristall is] someone I’ve played with since I was five-years-old,” Bedard said. “Seeing his development, there’s never a time where he wasn’t producing. You go play against older guys, for him, and just find a way to do it. Playing on a line with him was so fun, and I think that’s kind of what made me think that.
“Washington should be very excited about him. He’s a hell of a player and he’s going to be really exciting to watch.”
The two grew up in the sport together but rarely shared a team, eventually playing for WHL teams more than 600 miles apart. Still, they would eventually become close friends. Cristall detailed the story during the Capitals’ Development Camp in July.
“We met up playing spring hockey for the Vancouver Vipers,” he explained. “The friendship kind of started from there and then we started playing each other in Bantam. We’re rivals and then teammates in the spring. So we’ve kind of just grown up together, throughout hockey, and now we’re with each other all the time in the summer, so it’s pretty nice.”
Though they’ve spent most of their careers on opposite sides of ice, Bedard and Cristall have each raved about the other’s talent. Ahead of the Draft, Bedard called Cristall “probably the smartest hockey player I’ve gotten to play with” — particularly high praise coming from a talent of Bedard’s caliber.
Cristall, meanwhile, knew that Bedard was the real deal long before NHL teams were paying attention.
“You see him when he’s eight and nine, shooting the puck top shelf and skating laps around everybody. So I think you can tell pretty early that he’d be special.”
The pair do get to be teammates over the summer, albeit off the ice. Both spend their offseasons playing roller hockey for the Great Guys of the North Shore Inline Hockey League. Despite a star-studded roster that also features Blue Jackets players Kent Johnson and Jake Christensen, the Great Guys were ultimately eliminated in this year’s semifinals.
Even if his team isn’t quite as successful on roller skates, Bedard still finds it a crucial part of his summers.
“It’s just something I’ve always done,” he said. “I found it good for me, just the creativity of it. In the end it’s just a lot of fun and I got a lot of buddies that were playing. That’s something that’s big: you’ve got to obviously have fun and that’s something I kind of preach a lot about myself. I love the game and that’s something I enjoy doing.”
In a moment of serendipity, both Cristall and Suzdalev were at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday ahead of the Capitals’ upcoming Rookie Camp. It may be the last time the three share a space for a long while. After an ice hockey season with Suzdalev and a roller hockey summer with Cristall, Bedard will enter new territory this fall with the Blackhawks. In a few years, though, his two friends could be teammates of their own. Bedard, for one, hopes to see it happen.
“Maybe they’ll be running the flanks one day together. That’d be pretty fun to watch.”
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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