MINNEAPOLIS - Eric Belanger has fond memories of the Xcel Energy Center.
The Edmonton Oilers centre had some of his most productive seasons as a member of the Minnesota Wild.
“I liked it a lot, it’s a nice place to play, it’s a nice city, the fans are great,” said Belanger prior to facing his former team as a member of the Oilers. “We had a good team when I was here and I have some nice memories playing here.
“I had a good time. Playing under Jacques Lemaire helped me a lot, I learned a lot playing here.”
Belanger, 33, spent three seasons with the Wild, scoring 13 goals and posting over 35 points in each season.
He was eventually traded to the Washington Capitals midway through the 2009-2010 campaign and went on to sign as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes last year.
This off-season Belanger signed a three-year deal with the Oilers, where he’ll be expected to provide experience and leadership to a young core.
“So far, he’s looked good, he looks like a guy that’s really taken care of himself this summer and I really didn’t expect anything less from a veteran guy like that,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “He’s certainly well prepared. What’s really special is just how badly he wants to be here and how excited he is about being part of something like this. I think that’s translated on the ice.”
Belanger played his fourth exhibition game with the Oilers Friday as they took on the Wild. The Oilers will wrap up their pre-season Saturday in Vancouver against the Canucks.
Heading into his 11th NHL season, Belanger has his pre-season routine down pat.
“You want to get your legs under yourself, you want to get your wind, you want to get your game-shape back,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you do in the summer, there is nothing you can do that’s going to compare to playing games. The last game is the best I’ve felt, playing against Phoenix, and so I’m feeling better and better every day and I’m pretty close to where I should be before the season starts.”
The Oilers are hoping then native of Sherbrooke, Que., is able to put up the type of numbers he did as a member of the Wild.
Belanger is coming off a productive season with the Coyotes, where he scored 13 goals and added 27 assists for 40 points in 82 games.
He, much like most of the other Oilers, is anxious to move on to the regular season, which gets underway on Oct. 9 when the club hosts the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“There’s still 30 guys here in camp, so you don’t really have the feel that the season is around the corner,” Belanger said. “There are still different line combinations that they are trying out. It’s fun to be able to do that before the season starts, but then again there’ll be nine days between the last pre-season game and the first regular-season game.
“We’re going to be sick of practicing and we’re going to be looking forward to playing that first game at home against Pittsburgh.”