He routinely took big swipes at crease encroachers and in a memorable playoff exchange with Detroit’s Martin Lapointe, gave the Red Wing forward the old how’s-your-father with an upright jab of his stick blade. As a Leaf, he chopped down Lapointe again and feigned shock when a reporter mentioned their feud.
“Was that Lapointe? Must have been a lucky shot,” Belfour said with straight face.
But skullduggery on the ice was just part of the Belfour experience. In March of 2000, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour charge when he was tackled by police after a woman he was with became frightened by his intoxicated behaviour in a Dallas hotel. While under arrest and in the squad car, he allegedly told the officers he’d pay $1 billion US for his release without charges. He later apologized to the team and police and paid a $3,000 fine for resisting arrest.
Before joining the Leafs in ’02, he was pulled from a Stars’ road game in Vancouver and was so upset, he trashed the visitors room at GM Place, resulting in a hefty personal bill.
In April of 2007, Belfour and Florida Panthers’ teammate Ville Peltonen were arrested outside a South Florida nightclub. Belfour was charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting an officer without violence, but was released the same day on a $1,500 bond.
Yet there have always been teams wanting to hire Belfour and his stand-up style that made him third in NHL wins behind Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. He was also closing in on 200 playoff games when he retired.
“There are always players who are different in a non-competitive environment,” former Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock said Tuesday when trying to fathom Belfour’s mindset. “But on the ice, you want guys like that on your side, when everything is so emotional out there.”
Born in Carman, Man., Belfour’s start came in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, where one of his rivals was his future Leafs general manager, John Ferguson Jr. The undrafted Belfour shot to fame when his University of North Dakota team won the 1987 NCAA title and Chicago signed him as a free agent. For the next eight years, his Eagle nickname, the colourful mask and his cantankerous nature became synonymous with the Blackhawks.
After a brief stop in San Jose, Belfour landed in Dallas where he had three long playoff runs, including the ’99 Cup.
“It’s simple, he won when it meant the most,” said Hitchcock, whose only Cup came with Belfour.
“Big-time performers are at their best when the pressure is on. I was very happy for him when we won the Cup, because he’d been knocking on the door, but it was a case of close but no cigar. You worry if it will happen for players such as that.
“I thought he was even better for us in the ’99-2000 season (Dallas lost a six-game final with four decisions by a goal).
“We struggled for a long time that season because we’d gone far the year before and there were times when Eddie was the only thing holding us in games.”
In a 2005 Sporting News feature, Belfour insisted he had mellowed.
“I‘m still on the edge, it’s just that I don’t want to hurt the team by going over that edge. I’ve learned not to be as maniacal as I used to be.
“I still get angry, I just handle it a little differently. When I was younger, it bothered me for 24 hours. Now it bothers me for an hour or half-hour. I try to let it go sooner so I don’t harbour the anger.”
The Fame Game
Some first-year eligibles for the Hall of Fame
Goal — Ed Belfour
Defence — Glen Wesley, Mattias Norstrom, Richard Matvichuk
Left Wing — Geoff Sanderson, Scott Thornton,
Right Wing — Glen Murray, Martin Lapointe, Dallas Drake
Centre — Trevor Linden, Stu Barnes, Claude Lapointe
Some of the names who’ve been parked outside the Hall doors
Goal — Rogie Vachon, Andy Moog, Lorne Chabot
Defence — Kevin Lowe, Phil Housley, Larry Hillman, Mark Howe
Left wing — Dave Andreychuk, John LeClair, Bernie Nicholls, Pat Verbeek
Centre — Doug Gilmour, Guy Carbonneau, Adam Oates, Ralph Backstrom, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros, Pierre Turgeon
Right wing — Alex Mogilny, Claude Provost, Rick Middleton, Pavel Bure, Peter Bondra, Steve Larmer.