Belfour sees whole new world

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:03 AM ET

After the old dog had shown the young pups a few new tricks, one wondered whether he could learn a few himself.

Not that Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour has a lot to learn, not with a Hall of Fame career that includes Stanley Cups and world championships and Olympic Games and a pile of goaltender Oscars.

But life in the National Hockey League has changed for everyone. Given the new rules, it has changed most for the goalies.

Stripped of considerable armour, they are relative scarecrows, not replicas of the Michelin Man. Restricted in playing the puck, they will be homebodies, not adventurers.

There is the potential to be facing more breakaways and with the shootout format, more one-on-one attacks.

After working out with son Dayn and Leafs' top 2003 draft pick, Justin Pogge, at Leaf goaltender coach Steve McKichan's Future Pro goal school, Eddie The Eagle, 40, sounded the goaltender's credo: You take what comes.

"The pads have been a bit of an adjustment," he said of shin-pads reduced an inch each to 11 inches. "It doesn't take long. You have to get used to going down a bit quicker and being a bit further out on the angles. The two inches does make a difference."

To a technician, that's a lot. Not only is Belfour a highly technical goalie, he carries that over to his other love, the Carman Custom auto shop, a hotrod and antique car emporium he runs in Freeland, Mich., 160 kilometres north of Detroit.

He speaks for all goaltenders when he considers rule changes that eliminate the red line, enlarge the offensive zone and restrict goaltender movement. "I hope they got what they wanted so they can stop messing with the game," he grumbled.

He wonders whether the smaller pads will lead to injuries. "Once in a while you get hit on the outside of your leg," he said, touching an unprotected area at the side of his right knee.

"If the puck is coming on an angle, one inch can help. I also wear (interior) knee pads but some guys don't. Time will tell whether guys will get hurt or not."

What about playing the puck? Belfour is one of the slicker goaltenders at it.

"It will take some adjusting. You can't go into the corner so it might take some time getting used to where you can play the puck," he said. "But you might be surprised. You might see goalies playing it more. Hey, we've got lighter pads so you might see guys skating up the ice with it," he laughed.

He feels the ability of teams to pass across two lines might lead to more breakaways or "make the game worse if teams decide to line five guys along their blue-line."

Count Belfour among those players to whom the season-long lockout was a benefit. A chronic back problem that forced him to pull out of the World Cup last September was treated and he appeared as quick and lithe as ever during the workout.

There were other benefits. His rehab was unimpeded, he got to watch Dayn (Streetsville, Provincial Junior A) and spend Christmas with his parents in Carman, Man.

Belfour is looking forward to a league that has been a virtual musical chairs of player movement. He is not looking forward to playing without Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts, the two leaders whom the Leafs let go to Florida.

"We're definitely going to miss Joe and Gary, two key leaders, two really hard-working guys. I won the (Stanley) Cup with Joe and the (Olympic) gold medal and it was just first-class playing with him."

And new arrivals Eric Lindros and Jason Allison?

"I think both guys are going to help our team, size-wise," he said. "When they're on their games, they'll make things happen. They'll help our team."

Cynics might suggest it's a team that needs all the help it can get.


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