Not bad for an old bird

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:03 PM ET


 A drained Eddie Belfour wasn't around the rink to be serenaded with Happy Birthday yesterday.

 But the Maple Leafs sang the goalie's praises anyway as he turned 39 the day after leading Toronto to a first-round playoff series win.

 "I've never seen someone work so hard," forward Matt Stajan said as the Leafs packed for Philadelphia. "That's why he has been able to play the game so long and be so effective. We're lucky to have him and we're sure he'll be around for the next few years."

 Stajan wasn't even born when Belfour's first entry into the National Hockey League Guide and Record Book was recorded, in 1983-84 while the goalie was with the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

 Belfour is now the oldest active NHL goaltender and if he returns next year he would join Johnny Bower as the only 40-year-old puck stoppers to plat for Toronto.

 "Johnny still thinks he can play (at age 79)," said Leafs coach Pat Quinn, a Bower teammate during the late 1960s. "When Eddie was hurt earlier this year, John was calling me every day."

 Quinn noted that both Bower and Belfour made their names while in their 30s.

 "In the six-team days, John spent a lot of times in the minor leagues and didn't get a chance because there was just no room," Quinn said. "But he became a great player and a Hall of Famer.

 "A lot of guys played their best hockey in later years, such as Johnny, Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk."

 An older Belfour has evolved into a smarter goalie, near-flawless in his positioning, allowing him to square to the shooter, while his volcanic outbursts have become few and far between.

 After every save, whistle or even a goal against, Belfour roams along the red line, oblivious to the cheering crowds at home or the hostility he faced from fans in Ottawa.

 "It probably just clears your head and gives you an opportunity to refocus and regenerate all your attention to the next puck drop," Leafs backup goalie Trevor Kidd said.

 "I don't know what Eddie's reasoning is for doing that, but I do it to keep active and keep the heart rate from getting too low."


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