EDMONTON - Ask not for whom the Belle tolls, because he hasn’t done much tolling for anyone.
Limited to just one pre-season game so far, defenceman Shawn Belle has spent so much time in Popcorn Alley his nickname should be The Kernel.
He’ll be out of the press box in a jiffy, though, getting one last chance to salt away a job in Edmonton when he draws in for Sunday’s exhibition finale in Calgary.
“In my first couple of camps I probably would have been nervous at this point,” said the 250-pound free agent signing, who’s ready to go again after being sidelined with an undisclosed muscle strain. “This is my sixth year pro, so I’ve been through it all, I know what to expect. I can’t be intimidated by the Iginlas of the world. I want to be physical and show I can play these guys.”
Belle, 25, is trying to accomplish in Edmonton what he couldn’t in Minnesota or Montreal. Stick.
That he’s this close to doing it here sends chills up his spine.
“It would be awesome. I haven’t been able to crack the NHL yet for a full season and to do it on a home town team in Edmonton would definitely top the list of accomplishments in my career.”
He’s close. With Ryan Whitney, Kurtis Foster, Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Jim Vandermeer and Jason Strudwick taking six of the seven openings on defence, it leaves Belle, Theo Peckham and Richard Petiot, all of whom will dress against the Flames, competing for the last spot.
“I have a good relationship with Petiot and Peckham and we all know it’s going to be one of the guys who’s going to be here,” he said. “You try and encourage the other guy but at the same time you want to work extra hard so you can beat them out.”
A one-in-three shot, and an opportunity to steer his own fate Sunday night, is good by him.
“I’d say this is probably the best opportunity I’ve had to crack a lineup,” said Belle. “In Minnesota I was a top prospect and had my chances and my opportunities, whether it was a full opportunity or not you never really now. But this is probably the top opportunity I’ve had since I’ve been a pro.”
Of course, the same odds, theoretically, apply to Peckham and Petiot, too.
“Since the first day I signed I had the mind set that I was going to come in here and do everything I can do and hopefully it’s enough,” said Petiot, who wasn’t on anyone’s radar in the opening days, but played himself into the equation with a pair of strong outings.
He, like Belle, would dearly love that his breakthrough camp was in his own back yard.
“It would be pretty amazing, a dream come true,” said the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from nearby Daysland. “Growing up an Oilers fan, only an hour and a half away, I have tons of family and friends rooting for me. It would be a real honour to make the team, for sure.”
The last test won’t be an easy one - on the road in Calgary against a team that just whipped them 5-1, and promises to be even more physical in the rematch.
“You want to prove yourself against the best guys,” said Belle. “I just want to get back in the ice and play the game at the highest level I can, show the coaching staff what I can do.”