OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR SHAWN BELLE


One door closes, and another opens.

The door closed on Yannick Weber’s career with the Montreal Canadiens, temporarily, at least, when the Habs sent the young defenceman back down to the Hamilton Bulldogs after three games with the big team.  No surprise, really.  Weber, called up to help beef up Montreal’s injury-depleted blueline, did not did not distinguish himself during his brief stint with the Habs.  He was much better in Saturday’s 3-2 loss in Edmonton.  However, his showing against the Oilers did not stop the Canadiens from sending Weber back to the American Hockey League.

The popular theory was that Marc-Andre Bergeron, who waited all summer for the phone to ring as an unrestricted free agent, would get the call to join the Habs in time for Thursday’s home opener at the Bell Centre against the Colorado Avalanche.  However, a funny thing happened to Bergeron on his way back to the National Hockey League.

That phone call never came.

Instead, after practice today at the team’s training facility in Brossard, head coach Jacques Martin left open the possibility that Weber could again be recalled, having been sent down yesterday for salary cap reasons.  Martin also said that someone like Shawn Belle could be summoned from Hamilton to take up the role as this team’s sixth defenceman.

And sure enough, Belle got the call.  Which means that, once again, Marc-Andre Bergeron is waiting for the phone to ring.  At this point, Bergeron’s phone isn’t likely to ring until after the Bulldogs take to the ice for games Friday night and Saturday night, at the earliest. With only one game under his belt with the Dogs during this conditioning stint, a 2-assist performance in Hamilton’s 3-0 win over Rockford Friday night, Martin was clearly hesitant to press Bergeron into major-league service, and said as much after today’s practice.

As a result, Shawn Belle will get a chance to play in his first NHL game since 2006-2007, when he suited up nine times as a member of the Minnesota Wild.

You remember Shawn Belle, right?  He’s the native of Edmonton who came over to the Canadiens in July of 2008 in the trade that sent the prolific but diminutive Corey Locke to the Wild.  The 24-year-old blueliner took part in his second Habs’ training camp in September and appeared in three of Montreal’s seven pre-season games.  Prior to the injuries to Andrei Markov and Ryan O’Byrne, Belle was barely a blip on the Habs’ defensive radar: destined to play a second full season in Hamilton, and his third straight season in the American Hockey League, after the St.Louis Blues made him their first-round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Last season, when guys like Alex Henry and Yannick Weber were getting a look-see with the Habs, Shawn Belle wasn’t.  Belle’s final numbers with the Bulldogs last season:  3 goals and 10 assists in 60 games, with a plus-minus of plus 19, and 93 minutes in penalties.  At 6-1, 233 pounds, Belle packs some beef on that frame of his, compared to Josh Gorges, for example, who carries around 202 pounds on his 6-1 frame.  Despite his size, Belle was virtually invisible during the pre-season.  For a defenceman, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Regardless, pre-season play counts for absolutely nothing, when all is said and done.  Belle will be under a microscope when he takes to the ice Thursday against the Avalanche.  Can he even begin to fill Andre Markov’s skates?  Fat chance.  He’ll be hard-pressed to fill Ryan O’Byrne’s size 12’s.

Wow. Ryan O’Byrne.  Can you believe this is the same Ryan O’Byrne who was just about run out of town last season?

But I digress.

But hey, while we’re digressing.  Whatever happened to Corey Locke, anyway?

Remember those stats in junior, when Locke was piling up the points with the Ottawa 67s?  Fifty-one goals and 118 points in 2003-2004 in the Ontario Hockey League: statistics that prompted the Canadiens to make Locke a fourth-round pick in 2003. Locke’s numbers in Hamilton were not quite as prolific, although he did score 30 goals with the Bulldogs in 2007-2008.  The trouble with Corey Locke is THIS particular statistic:

Five foot nine.

Locke has never made it to the bigs.  Not yet, at least.  These days he’s playing with the Hartford Wolf Pack: another in the long line of career AHLers looking for an opportunity in the NHL.

Wouldn’t you know it?  Shawn Belle will get that opportunity, beginning Thursday night at the Bell Centre.

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About ahefter

I have covered hockey extensively during my 30-year sports broadcasting career. From the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid to the Edmonton Oiler dynasty years, I've shared my views on hockey with listeners in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. You can "catch me in action" on Youtube at the following URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n5BdB9ngYw My radio stops include TSN 690 Montreal, CJAD Montreal, CKNW Vancouver, and CKEY Toronto. I also ran the Canadian Press sports desk (radio). My travels as a network reporter have taken me to four Olympics, most recently Vancouver 2010. I'm currently an Applied Assistant Professor within the School of Communication at the University of Hartford.
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