Doug Engstrom grew up in Prince George and has always been a Cougars fan but tonight he’ll be cheering for the Regina Pats.
The reason is simple: his second cousin is Pats superstar Connor Bedard.
Engstrom’s mother Colleen is the sister of Connor’s grandmother Lynn, whose son Tom is the father of the 17-year-old Pats centre, one of the hottest pro prospects in hockey and a player most pundits figure will be selected first overall in the next NHL draft.
Engstrom bought tickets for him and his wife Lisa and their kids, 20-year-old Colin and twin 16-year-old siblings Owen and Nadine. Lisa’s parents from P.G. and three of their relatives from Williams Lake will also be there among the sellout crowd of nearly 6,000 at CN Centre. They’ll be sitting right against the glass in Section P, just to the right of the Prince George net to start the game.
“We’re right on the ice,” said Engstrom. “I want to see Connor score so I thought that’s where I’d sit. I like those seats, it’s a lot faster game. It’s incredible hockey.
“I’m rooting for a 5-4 Pats’ win in overtime, so each team gets at least a point.”
Engstrom, an electrician for Westcana Electric, hasn’t seen Bedard in a few years but in the times he has met him at family functions he was left with a good impression of a well-adjusted kid used to being in the spotlight.
“He’s super down to earth and he’s really nice, I’d say he’s just a great kid,” said Engstrom.
Dating back to his minor hockey days, Bedard has never played in Prince George. He’s played in front of sold-out arenas in Victoria, Langley, Kelowna and Kamloops over the past week and tonight’s game in Prince George will make it five sellouts for the Pats on their B.C. Division tour.
“I kind of had an idea they might be sold out, so I wanted to get the tickets early,” said Engstrom. “I’m really looking forward to it. It will be interesting to go Into CN Centre to a sold-out crowd again. I was there when they had playoff games and it was so loud in there you couldn’t hear yourself yell in that place. It was a lot of fun.”
The North Vancouver native leads the WHL with 24 goals 33 assists and 57 points in just 26 games. He turns 18 in July and will very likely jump to pro hockey next season.
“He’s just had a knack for it, as long as I’ve known him,” said Engstrom. “He loves playing hockey and he’s used to handling the press, he’s been dealing with them for so long. He does a pretty good job of answering questions, it probably comes second nature to him now.
“There’s a lot of hype and I didn’t know if that’s added pressure or it just comes with it.”
Engstrom says he speaks to his aunt Lynn and cousins Ron and Holly more often than he does with Tom.
“Tom and Melanie, Connor’s parents, are so busy and have been for so long,” said Engstrom. “Since he’s been a kid he’s ben so busy with hockey - that’s a full-time commitment for the family. It’s hockey seven days a week and the travel, it’s crazy, and now you’ve got world juniors and the WHL.”
BJ Gair, a season ticket holder since the Cougars moved to Prince George from Victoria in 1994, said it’s ironic that Bedard and Cougars centre Riley Heidt, the player the Cougars selected second overall behind Bedard in the 2019 WHL draft, both have family ties in Prince George.
Heidt‘s second cousin is Danny Schwab, president of Intercoast Construction in Prince George, and Heidt goes to the Schwab family home regularly for Sunday dinners.
Gair is hoping there will be a trickle-down effect of having the stands packed tonight and people will start showing up more often for Cougar home games.
“None of the players have made the impact that Bedard did, I don’t remember anybody coming in for a player and I’m looking forward to seeing him,” said Gair. “Unfortunately we only get to see him once. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a sellout and I just feel sad because the kids need us.
“The team still has to win (to get the crowds back). It’s OK for us, win or lose we’re still fans, but for some people the attitude is altogether different.”
Fans are being advised to get to the rink early, ahead of the 7 p.m. start, or risk missing out on the first-period action.