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Andy Prest: From Celebrini to Bedard to Reinhart, North Shore hockey is soaring

Macklin Celebrini and Connor Bedard are about to become back-to-back No. 1 overall NHL draft picks from North Vancouver

There’s a lot to celebrate in the North Shore hockey world right now.

On Monday night, West Vancouver’s Sam Reinhart scored the game-winning goal as Florida topped Edmonton to win the Stanley Cup. That’s basically the dream scenario played out every day on driveways and backyard rinks across Canada. 

The hockey fun, it seems, is just getting started though. On Friday the San Jose Sharks are going to make North Vancouver’s Macklin Celebrini the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft. There is no suspense about it – the Sharks have already staked their claim to the talented six-foot forward, who turned 18 just a couple of weeks ago. The choice is an easy one.

Celebrini is coming off a season that saw him score 32 goals and 32 assists in just 38 games at Boston University, becoming the youngest player ever to win the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA Div. 1 hockey, and just the fourth ever freshman to win the award following Adam Fantilli in 2023, Jack Eichel in 2015 and Paul Kariya – another North Vancouver native – in 1993.

Celebrini and his family should feel immensely proud of all he has accomplished to get to this point.

And it seems some feelings of pride, by proxy at least, are in order for all of North Vancouver, given the draft results of 2023 along with the expected Celebrini celebration coming this Friday. If/when the Sharks make Celebrini the first overall pick in this year’s draft, that will mark two years in a row that the NHL’s top draft choice will come from little old North Vancouver. That’s remarkable.

Last year, of course, the top overall pick was another North Van kid by the name of Connor Bedard. He was taken No. 1 by Chicago and proceeded to lead all rookies in points with 61, 14 more than the next highest scorer despite playing 14 fewer games.

It’s fair to wonder if there’s some secret sauce in the North Shore system that could cause lightning to strike twice in the same place, but while Bedard and Celebrini share some similarities in their hockey journeys, they have also taken very different paths to get to where they are now.

Bedard gained fame – or infamy, depending on the time of day and which neighbour you asked – in his neighbourhood for loudly shooting pucks in his backyard hour after hour, day after day. He played for North Shore Winter Club, then North Vancouver Minor, then West Van Warriors Academy and then off to the Regina Pats of the WHL before making it to Chicago.

Celebrini, meanwhile, was one of those kids who grew up around elite athletes, his dad Rick playing professional soccer before following a career of physiotherapy and sports medicine to jobs with the Vancouver Whitecaps and Golden State Warriors. A two-time NBA MVP revered by the entire country of Canada was just “Uncle Steve” to Macklin, who also played for the Winter Club before heading off to suit up for elite programs in San Jose, Minnesota and Chicago, ending up at Boston University as a 17-year-old.

I took a spin through the records to try to find the last time that two players from the same town were picked No. 1 overall in back-to-back years, and from what I could see, you need to go all the way back to 1964 and ‘65 – the second and third seasons ever for an NHL draft – to find Claude Gauthier and Andre Veilleux, both of Montreal, going first overall in back-to-back years. And then there was that draft 25 years ago where two kids from the same town in Sweden went second and third overall in the same draft, but they also happened to be twins.

The North Shore had another similar double dose in 2012 when West Vancouver’s Griffin Reinhart – Sam’s older brother – and Morgan Rielly went fourth and fifth overall in the draft.

But it’d be pretty hard to match the two-for-one special Bedard and Celebrini have cooked up these last two years.

On top of that, North Vancouver 17-year-old Chloe Primerano has proven herself to be one of the best young female hockey players in the world. She earned MVP and best defender honours at the 2024 IIHF World Women’s U18 Championships, and it’d be no surprise at all to see her make a Bedardian impact as she hits the professional level.

And maybe the Stanley Cup will make an appearance on the North Shore over the summer! I don’t know exactly how we’d arrange it, but it feels a little like we should all get a drink out of the Cup.

Andy Prest is the editor of the North Shore News. His humour/lifestyle column runs biweekly.