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Connor Bedard bounce packing arenas across the WHL

Giants notebook: North Van phenom and Regina Pats star will fill Calgary’s Saddledome Wednesday

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Western Hockey League teams are just about to compete for late-season playoff spots, and WHL fans are doing the same when it comes to seeing Connor Bedard play at junior hockey awards one last time.

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The Calgary Hitmen expect a sell-out at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday night for Bedard and the Regina Pats’ final visit of the regular season. The Saddledome lists a capacity of 19,289 and a few individual seats were available as of Wednesday morning.

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Bedard and the Pats helped the Red Deer Rebels set a franchise attendance record Tuesday night with an announced crowd of 7,287 at the Peavey Mart Centtrium for a 6-5 overtime win.

This brought Red Deer’s advertised attendance average for the season to 3,978. Calgary was at 3,739 as of Wednesday morning.

The Pats’ early stints this season in Red Deer and Calgary didn’t garner that kind of attention. The announced viewership for Regina’s Tilt on October 1 at Red Deer was 4,806, while a visit to Calgary the following night drew an announced viewership of 3,279.

Bedard’s efforts with the world’s juniors and the growing hype that he’s ready for the NHL’s mainline action next season are no doubt driving that surge in attendance. The North Vancouver native has been the consensus pick for next summer’s NHL draft pick for the past several years.

The Pats started Wednesday in ninth place in the league with the announced attendance average of 3,888. However, their five biggest viewers of the season have been in their last five home games, including back-to-back sellouts of 6,499 at the Brandt Center.

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This viewership gain for Bedard first came to the fore in the league when the Pats’ road trip through BC from November 25 to December 2 resulted in sell-outs for all five stations.

The Pats (22-21-2-1) woke up Wednesday with 22 regular season games remaining and tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference with the Swift Current Broncos (22-20-1-2). Swift Current has a game on its hands.

The teams were a point ahead of ninth-placed Medicine Hat Tigers (19-27-7-1), with Regina holding two games at Medicine Hat. The top eight teams advance to the playoffs.

The league’s singles indoor attendance record is 19,305, which occurred when the Saddledome exceeded advertised capacity on March 16, 2008 for a visit by Kootenay Ice to the Hitmen. Red Deer’s previous record was 7,208, set on March 19, 2016 during a visit to the Edmonton Oil Kings.

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Both games took place on the last day of their respective regular seasons.

Ex-giant Ronning to Germany

Former Vancouver Giants winger Ty Ronning now plays for the ERC Ingolstadt Panthers, a team in Germany’s professional league.

The Iowa Wild announced on their social media channels last week that they had mutually agreed to a mutual release of 25-year-old Ronning from his contract with the American Hockey League. The following day, ERC Ingolstadt announced Ronning’s arrival.

Ronning has had eight goals and 13 points in 30 games with the Savages this season. He signed a one-year contract in the AHL last summer with Iowa, the main farm team for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. That came after four seasons in the New York Rangers system, primarily with their AHL Hartford Wolf Pack affiliate. Ronning had 35 goals and 70 points in 148 career games with Hartford.

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He became a free agent last summer when Rangers didn’t make him a qualifying offer.

Ronning had a Giants-record 61 goals in his 20-year 2017-18 season. The Burnaby product and son of Vancouver Canucks fan favorite Cliff Ronning was a seventh-round pick by Rangers in 2016.

He had talks with the Canucks this summer about a spot with the Abbotsford Canucks this season, but nothing came of it.

Zack attack for Ice

Former Giants center and captain Zack Ostapchuk had four goals and four assists in his first eight games with Winnipeg Ice after the blockbuster trade between the clubs happened just before the WHL’s Jan. 10 deadline.

Winnipeg went 6-1-1-0 in those games and carried an East-leading 35-6-1-0 record into Wednesday’s home game against the Saskatoon Blades.

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In exchange for Ostpachuk, the Giants received forwards Skyler Bruce and Connor Dale, two prospects and four WHL draft picks, including three first-round players.

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