Most American Hockey League players have a similar resume. Start skating just after learning how to walk. They have had skilled coaches through their formative years, supportive parents who encourage their son’s ambition, while ignoring the noise in the garage or rec. room. And most enjoyed organized leagues where they could hone the skills they’d need in junior or college hockey.
Then, there’s the rare outlier…that one player who not only didn’t emerge from the common mold, but didn’t even know that mold existed. Meet Rampage forward Alex Belzile.
If you want to find the town where Belzile grew up, find Quebec City on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, and follow its course toward the Atlantic Ocean. Keep going. Keep going. There, just before you hit New Brunswick, you’ll find St. Eloi, just a few miles north of the tippy top of Maine and should you actually make the trip, 325 people will be there to say, bonjour on one of the town’s two streets.
Belzile played every sport he could, golf, tennis, some soccer and finally, hockey, thanks to the only two other people who would skate with him in town, his father, Jean, and brother, Patrick, on the outside rink, open for business in October. So the supportive parent ingredient does seem to be a common denominator among Canadian hockey players. “I wasn’t very good at playing hockey when I was younger,” said Belzile, who has three goals and two assists in his last six Rampage games since his return from the ECHL Colorado Eagles. “I played house hockey growing up, but at 17 I developed physically and got faster and stronger.”
Jean Belzile and his wife Claire, were big Quebec Nordiques fans, and Alex picked up on their passion for the game. “I remember taping games and re-watching them. I just remember always thinking about hockey.”
Just after Christmas as an 18-year old he began playing for Sherbrooke of the Quebec Junior Hockey League, and then moved up to Rimouski of the QMJHL and eventually led the Oceanic in scoring in 2011-12 with 92 points in 63 games, including 70 assists.
Belzile also credits his family for their support and advice. “They were always positive to me, taught me to be humble. To make passes. My father even tells me now, ‘shoot more, shoot more.’ I get that, I think, from being from a small village, farms, where people are generous and hard working.”
Belzile also feels like a late bloomer in many respects with his lack of youth hockey experience. “I didn’t start lifting weights until I was 19,” he said with a smile, “I was slower and not as strong as the others, but I think that’s positive because I know I can be better and still peak. I know I’m going to get stronger and faster. I’ve never had things easy, been cut from a lot of teams. But I have tons of potential. ”
On to the pros after being undrafted, Belzile felt he had to prove himself more so than those selected on draft day, so he played with a chip on his shoulder, piling up penalty minutes – as well as goals and assists with the Gwinnett (S.C.) Gladiators and Alaska Aces of the ECHL and a short stint with Hamilton of the AHL.
Then, in Idaho, he a terrific season two years ago, scoring 28-41-69 with 113 penalty minutes. “I was angry I wasn’t getting called up, but I’m playing with more control now.”
Belzile signed with Colorado and was assigned to Fort Wayne last season, where again he was a better than a point per game scorer (10-21-31 in 29 games) and then nabbed 16 points in 16 ECHL post-season games as the Komets made it to the conference finals.
“The time I spent in Fort Wayne was really good for me. I played center there for the first time so that gave me a bigger role. It helped with my confidence too. We had a really good team, very offensive minded so that fit into my style.”
He managed to score six goals here in 25 games last year, as he wore out the flight schedule between San Antonio and northern Indiana, but his play last March earned him another look with the Rampage and Avalanche this season. He began the season with only two goals in 29 games, finding himself on the fourth line or in the fourth row of the seats as a healthy scratch.
“When I was here before Christmas I was not playing my best hockey, and I went (to the Colorado Eagles) and I got a ton of ice time, started scoring goals, started feeling better with the puck. I knew that when I got called up again, I need to bring that same confidence because I can be the same kind of player in the American Hockey League.”
Alex Belzile scores at 7:36 in the 2nd!
ASST: Shawn Ouellette-St. Amant (3), A.J. Greer (23) pic.twitter.com/28msT6YOyK
— San Antonio Rampage (@sarampage) March 22, 2017
Part of the confidence boost was an incredible 16-game winning streak with the Eagles, which has propelled the ECHL Colorado club into heavy favorites for the Kelly Cup post-season run.
“It was fun. The more you win, the more you want to win. Everyone showed up at the rink and they’re happy, positive. We were trailing 3-1 after two periods and we knew we were coming back. That’s team confidence.”
“That was fun to be a part of, that 16-game win streak.”
Back in San Antonio, Belzile has delivered on his promise to be more confident, more aggressive and not to overthink his time on the ice. “Everyone makes mistakes. I’m not afraid of making mistakes anymore. I just try to play the right way now. Find that fine line. And make plays.”
Last night, Alex Belzile tied the game late in the 3rd but the Rampage fell short in OT.
— San Antonio Rampage (@sarampage) March 18, 2017
“I’ve never been one to worry about what going to happen in the season ahead. Who knows what’s going to happen. So right now, there’s like 15 games left so I’m going to try my best to stay in the lineup. As long as you work hard, good things are going to happen.”
Just like those 325 folks who taught Alex well in St. Eloi, Quebec…good things happen with hard work every day.
In Case You Missed It
Rocco Grimaldi’s 26 goals is second in the AHL…although the Rampage went into extra time vs San Diego last weekend, they finished 1-1-1-1 vs the Gulls, the AHL’s second best team percentage-wise this season…the Cleveland Monsters have had enough of Texas teams. After the Rampage shutout the defending AHL champs, 4-0 to sweep them on the season series, also 4-0, the Monsters were blanked, 4-0 at home in their next game against the Texas Stars. Then the Stars went ahead, 3-0 the next night, only to have the champs wake up with six unanswered goals in a 6-3 Cleveland win…thank goodness the Rampage are done with San Jose. The AHL-top record-setters are 19-2-1-1 in their last 23 games, including a perfect, 11-0 February…and don’t let the Barracuda have a three-goal lead – they are 14-1 in three-goal games…the Rampage are 19-8-2-0 when scoring the first goal…Rampage goalies been involved with five penalty shots this season, with only one goal being scored…Troy Bourke has two goals and three assists in his last four games…Belzile has three goals and two helpers in his last six games…the Rampage are 17-0-1-1 when leading after two periods.
Dylan Olsen’s lone Rampage goal, scored with 49 seconds left in overtime, lifted the Rampage to a 3-2 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs at the AT&T Center on March 22, 2015. Bobby Butler and John McFarland picked up assists at 6:11 of OT. You may recall, the AHL overtime period went seven minutes that season, with the last three minutes a 3-on-3 situation. Conner Brickley and Dany Heatley also scored for the Rampage, while Michael Houser stopped 25 of 27 Bulldog shots. It was Heatley’s last goal scored in North America in his illustrious career, which saw him score 372 NHL goals and 380 total pro goals in the U-S or Canada. Brickley played 23 games with the Florida Panthers last season, scoring his lone goal in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, but spent most of the season in Portland with the Pirates. The Panthers traded him to Carolina this season for Brody Sutter, and Conner spent the year with the Charlotte Checkers. Butler finished up this season playing 40 games in the KHL with seven goals and 21 points, while McFarland, after three NHL games with Florida last season and 24 points in 56 games in Maine, played in the Swedish Elite League and scored nine points in 21 contests. Olsen is an unrestricted free agent and didn’t play this season.
Rampage on the road in Ontario this weekend, and next Tuesday in Tucson, but will be back next Friday, Mar. 31 against the Stockton Heat. See you at the rink!