Has Alex Belzile proven he’s a National League player during his 31-game audition this season? If so, he should have been warned, because he didn’t seem to know on Saturday evening.
The Quebecer’s season ended with the stinging 3-0 loss to the Hurricanes. Hit on one foot by a puck, he ended his presence on one leg, holding on with difficulty on his skates. Belzile did not miss a single appearance the rest of the match. But the Habs announced on Monday that a fracture ended their season.
On Tuesday morning, he appeared before the media with a protective boot — the new fashion shoe in this locker room — on his right foot.
“I knew it had pinched. But in my head, I had to get back on board, said Belzile, at the end of the Habs’ morning training. There are five games left and I have to prove that I can still play. I am in no position to rest on my laurels. It’s my mentality. I had to compete. »
At the second intermission, he continued, “it was okay. After the match, the adrenaline goes down, you take off your skate and you realize that it’s worse. You try to tell yourself that it’s not that bad. The mental aspect takes over. »
Belzile’s poor stick suffered the same fate as his foot on the streak: it broke. The number 60 smashed his stick with all his might on the post, after Sebastian Aho scored to make it 3-0.
“That, I’m not proud of. You have to control your emotions, recalled Belzile. It was more because of what happened before. »
Belzile was recalled on January 21. From then on, he played in each of his team’s 31 games, without ever being cut. He did return to Laval in February, but it was on paper, during CH’s spring break, mainly to participate in the American League All-Star Game.
The numerous injuries obviously did not harm him, since the CH was often caught with the minimum of 12 healthy attackers. But the fact remains that Rem Pitlick, Jesse Ylönen and Chris Tierney all skipped rounds while Belzile remained in the squad. He took the opportunity to register 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) during this period.
Advanced stats don’t paint quite as good a picture — the Canadiens controlled 40.5% of the 5-on-5 scoring chances when he’s on the ice* — but in terms of goals, it was 50-50: 19 goals scored, 19 goals allowed. But he also stood out in less measurable aspects, such as leadership with his teammates.
Last January, shortly after Belzile’s recall, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard praised the veteran. “There’s a reason he’s captain of the Rocket. He brings the same energy every day, he integrates everyone. He is one of the best captains I have had in my life. »
“I started in Laval, but I didn’t take it as a disappointment, I wanted to work on my game and be ready when the phone rings,” Belzile said. You never know when it’s gonna sound, but when you’re ready and confident, it shows on the ice. That’s the difference with last year, I had more confidence to make games. »
“It’s a case where the player is recalled and you hope not to see him again,” added defender Corey Schueneman, his Laval teammate for three years, recalled for Tuesday’s game. He took advantage of his chance. He did not take his role as captain lightly, he worked hard and showed energy here as in Laval. »
This is where things get tough for Belzile and the Canadian. The Bas-Laurentien was named captain of the Rocket at the start of the season, but his contract expires this summer. Theoretically, like almost all players in his situation, the goal remains to land a one-way NHL contract. To prove that he is perhaps as useful in the big league as with the school club.
“I was really happy to be captain in Laval,” he said. It is an honor that I have not often had. This is the organization of the Canadian. Then I was called up, I had success, I showed what I can do not just in a few games, but in two months. I had an impact on the team game after game. I am very happy. »