Pats captain Bedard, Kelowna Rockets alumnus Backlund honoured at 2023 NHL Awards
Regina Pats captain Connor Bedard and Kelowna Rockets alumnus Mikael Backlund were both honoured at the 2023 NHL Awards Monday in Nashville, Tenn.
Backlund, a former WHL Champion with the Rockets in 2009, was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his humanitarian contributions to his community, while Bedard earned the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence, awarded annually to a candidate that exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.
Backlund, who was drafted by the Flames in 2007 and has spent his entire NHL career in Calgary, has used his platform as a professional athlete to bring attention to many worthy causes. He supports the ALS Society of Alberta in honor of his mother-in-law, who succumbed to the disease when his wife, Frida, was just 19 years old. It also is of importance for Backlund as Flames Assistant General Manager Chris Snow has been battling ALS for the last four years. Backlund and his spouse have raised more than $400,000 for the nonprofit and have welcomed nearly 100 families affected by ALS to home games.
As an ambassador for both Kids Cancer Care and Special Olympics Calgary, Backlund – who had a childhood friend diagnosed with cancer and another who was born with Down syndrome – has invited an additional 500 guests to attend Flames games and meet with him afterward. Most recently, Backlund and his wife partnered with Parachutes for Pets to create Lily’s Legacy, named after their dog who passed away in 2021. This first-of-its-kind program allows children in foster care to keep their pets while they are transitioning into care.
“I’ve always been inspired by people who help others that struggle,” Backlund explained. “I am aware that I have been given the opportunity to live a privileged life and know that a small gesture from me can mean the world to other people.”
Backlund becomes the sixth WHL alumnus to claim the King Clancy Memorial Trophy since 2004, joining Matt Dumba (2020), Andrew Ference (2014), Shane Doan (2010), Olaf Kolzig (2006) and Jarome Iginla (2004).
Bedard, who hails from North Vancouver, B.C., led the WHL in goals (71), points (143), and points-per-game (2.51) to earn the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as WHL Player of the Year. Bedard became the first player in Canadian Hockey League history to sweep the Player of the Year, Top Prospect and Top Scorer awards in a single season and set single-tournament Team Canada records in assists (14) and points (23) at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship en route to being named tournament MVP and winning a gold medal.
“Connor Bedard exemplifies all the qualities recognized with the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence,” said Dan Marr, Director of NHL Central Scouting. “The motivation, commitment, and discipline that he displayed throughout this season with the WHL Regina Pats and with his gold-medal, record-breaking performances at the 2022 and 2023 World Junior Championships were truly outstanding feats of excellence. Connor is projected to be in that rare category of being able to influence the success of a franchise and is a worthy recipient of this award.”
Bedard is the second WHL player to earn the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence since it was first presented in 2015; Brett Leason was honoured as a member of the Prince Albert Raiders in 2019.
A pair of WHL Alumni were also named to NHL All-Star and All-Rookie Teams, announced as part of Monday’s NHL Awards ceremony.
Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, who skated in the WHL with the Prince Albert Raiders before winning a WHL Championship with the Kelowna Rockets in 2015, was named to the NHL Second All-Star team.
His Oilers teammate, goaltender Stuart Skinner, earned a nod on the NHL All-Rookie Team after being named a finalist for the Calder Trophy earlier this spring.
Like Draisaitl, Skinner also won a WHL Championship, doing so in 2018 with the Swift Current Broncos after beginning his WHL career with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.