After a long five-game road trip to open the 2023-24 season, the Chicago Blackhawks finally held their home opener against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday in front of a packed crowd.
Connor Bedard played at the United Center three times during the preseason, but Saturday was his first official game there. And he wasted no time by making it a memorable night for himself and the other 19,867 fans in the building, scoring 90 seconds into the contest on the power play.
"It's always nice to score," Bedard said following a 5-3 loss, which was the only downer of the night. "Whether it was first career goal or first goal here, it's always nice to get that, and it feels good to get it quick. It was big for our power play to see one go in, but obviously now it doesn't feel as good, but in the moment, it was great for sure."
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The celebration after the goal was as loud as I've heard the United Center for a regular-season game in recent memory. It was deafening.
"It was electric in there," Bedard said. "It was cool for me and all the guys there. You get energy from that. For us to get one early and get them up like that was great. They're awesome, so it was a lot of fun to play in front of them."
His teammates felt the lift, too.
"Absolutely," said Reese Johnson, who scored his first goal of the season in the loss. "Couldn’t be happier for him. That’s a pretty special moment, his first game here at the United Center. Everyone was stoked."
"You could see the ovation from the crowd and the goal is well-deserved," echoed Connor Murphy. "It definitely gave the building and our team energy. It's pretty cool to see that right off the bat."
Bedard said before the game that he had watched YouTube clips of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup runs after he was drafted to get himself hyped for home games. The energy at the United Center exceeded his expectations, which were already very high to begin with.
"Even more so, I'd say," Bedard said. "I've heard so many great things and obviously saw it in preseason. Even when I got drafted, we had a pretty electric crowd there, it was awesome. Just to finally get that real game and to see how energetic they are, how much they love us, it's awesome and we couldn't say more how much we appreciate it."
Bedard had scored two goals in a Blackhawks sweater prior to Saturday, an empty netter in the preseason and a wraparound goal in Boston during the second game of the regular season. He hadn't beaten an NHL goaltender yet from a distance.
It had to feel good for Bedard to finally get one from the shot that makes him so great.
"He’s so used to scoring, I think he feels comfortable contributing more," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "But in the NHL, there are going to be some nights he plays great and he’s not going to score. We mentioned that to him once already and there are nights when he scores and we don’t win. It still doesn’t feel the greatest, right?
"We want to win here first and then the individual accomplishments will follow because you’re going to be out at the right times to probably get them. It’s just learning curves for all our young guys and our older guys."
Bedard did take responsibility for the Golden Knights' third goal, which turned out to be the game winner. The goal happened just 15 seconds into the third period.
"That third goal was definitely my fault," Bedard said. "Can't start a period like that. That's something I've got to be better in and I know that and everyone knows that. We had our looks and it was a pretty even game overall, but it's inches like that and I've got to take responsibility for that."
The loss will probably sting for Bedard, who hates losing. But it was still a memory he'll have forever, what it was like to hear the roar of the crowd and ovation after his goal was announced.
"You can remember it, for sure, when you're looking back on it," Bedard said. "But obviously now, you're focused on what we can do better to win. But obviously, as a moment in your life, looking back you'll remember it."