Speedy Belle shifts attention to defence

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 2:21 PM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- If you've seen Shawn Belle darting around the ice with the greatest of ease, it would come as no surprise Hall of Fame defenceman Paul Coffey was his favourite player growing up. Belle hasn't been showcasing his offensive talent all that much during the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship, but he became the second defenceman to score for Canada in the tournament during Thursday's 8-1 win over Finland.

On the play, Belle jumped in from his point position, took a pass from captain Mike Richards and pounded the puck home with a blistering shot from the slot.

"I was definitely pretty excited, it was my first goal at the world juniors," said Belle, a first round pick (30th overall) of the St. Louis Blues in the 2003 NHL entry draft who was traded to the Dallas Stars this past summer. "I was pretty happy, but I went right to Richie because he made it happen. It was my one chance in a game and you don't want to lose those chances."

Belle, now in his fourth season with the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, is playing in his second world junior championship and he's feeling much more comfortable this time around.

GREAT SKATER

Belle's role will likely be enhanced now that Winnipegger Cam Barker is heading home after contracting mononucleosis and Brent Seabrook has aggravated his shoulder injury.

Being a great skater is a valuable asset, especially in a tournament like this one.

"Speed is a big part of my game," said Belle, noting he has several video tapes of Coffey he has studied extensively. "Anytime I find a hole, I can try to come through it. My dad (Jim) taught me how to skate before I even entered organized hockey. Over the years, I've gotten a lot faster. It makes a big difference on faceoffs too, being able to jump and get an extra step on defenders off the draw."

It's easy to see all the work has paid off.

"The one asset that stands out, even in this group, with all of the world-class players, is his speed," said Team Canada assistant coach Peter DeBoer. "He's just got unbelievable wheels. When you can notice it in a group of Sidney Crosbys and Jeff Carters, you know it's a pretty special gift. Anyone who skates that well kind of jumps off the page at you."

Because of the abundance of talent Team Canada boasts on its forward lines, Belle has been asked to sit back and focus on play in his own end.

"We've tried to keep all our defencemen playing a conservative game, I know Shawn could probably contribute more offensively if we gave him free reign to do that," said DeBoer, noting that Belle is one of the strongest junior hockey players he's ever seen. "That's been the mandate and that shows you what kind of kid he is. He's put aside his personal goals and maybe some of his personal strengths in order to play a team game. That's the story of this team."


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