Pierre-Édouard Bellemare signed with the Colorado Avalanche on July 1, joining an organization he thought he could not only compete for a Stanley Cup with but that would also continue develop him as a player. His profession has taken him to a lot of places--from France to Sweden to the United States--but Colorado presented a unique chance to sharpen his skills and play alongside some of the top talents in the game.
Bellemare, 34, came to the NHL as a mature player at the age of 29. After beginning his career in his native France, he played in Sweden's top professional league from 2009-2014, picking up another language along the way. He eventually signed with the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent in 2014-15 and notched 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 81 appearances during his "rookie year."
As a key depth contributor that can play anywhere in the lineup, the forward from Le Blanc-Mesnil, France, has finished with at least 14 points in three of his last four NHL seasons--two more with the Flyers and then the last two with Vegas after being selected in the 2017 Expansion Draft. In 2017-18, he helped the Knights reach the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural campaign and was later named an alternate captain for the club the following season.
Glad to be in Colorado, the affable center chatted about his unconventional career path and how the journey shaped his mindset entering the 2019-20 season.
Do you still look forward to training camp?
"I got here (to the NHL) so late. I was 29 years old, so I don't feel satisfied yet. I'm not judging the guys who have been here since they were 18 years old and now, at 30, (training camp isn't as exciting). I get that. But I got here so late that it's like, 'Ok, today could be the last day, so open your eyes and enjoy it.' And it's a good experience to one day tell my grandchildren. So I'm lucky enough to be able to just enjoy it."
What attracted you to the Avalanche in free agency?
"It was two really clear points, the first of which was my talk with the organization. I felt they had a clear view of what type of player I am, and quite frankly told me they weren't satisfied, that there was room for improvement. I've always said I will play hockey until the day I stop learning, and to be able to find an organization that's so prestigious and telling me right away that we like you but have to work with you to do this and this--I just want to be better. I want to be a player who can help the team. I may not have all the natural talent, but if I can make one play that I learned here and I can help the team in a big situation, then that's all I want. They gave me that. The [second] thing was every time I played against the Avs it was a tough game, with their speed and everything. What's the next thing I want to learn? To play the way they play."
Video: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on signing with the Avs
How have you been able to adjust to a new team?
"It's still fresh, but any organization that plays the way they play… it's not just talent, it's also because the guys are connected really well. The most difficult part was to fit in right away. But I'm lucky enough to speak three languages, which gives me an advantage, being able to talk to guys in French, talk to guys in Swedish. And I have a big mouth."
Have you acclimated to the elevation yet?
"I was a little worried about it. I remember when I was in Philly, [traveling to Colorado] could be a bit of a [pain]. In Vegas where we had the practice facility and our house, it's 3,000 feet. So it's not that bad [here]. I think that's why I'm not feeling it that bad, but maybe I'm jinxing myself. So far I'm happy with the way I've handled it."
You seem to have a natural charisma, does that help you become a leader in the building?
"I have a routine, and that's allowed me to become a more complete player and make it here, at age 29, to the NHL. When I come to a new organization, it's the same thing--I'm here early and do everything I need to do, and eventually I get that [label]: leader. But it's just me doing what I need to do to be able to be competitive every day. And the language thing helps me. The French-Canadian guy likes to speak French, the Swedish guy likes to speak Swedish. I can jump in the middle and be tight with the guys. And it's a good locker room, so it's easy to fit in."
Does being trilingual help you on the ice as far as communicating and facilitating offense?
"When I'm on the ice, depending on who I'm playing alongside, I usually speak the language that's appropriate for that person. So I feel like it's helped me. That's probably the best advice in my career, when I was 21 and my mom told me to just learn the languages. I wasn't a great hockey player, I came to Sweden speaking no English and no Swedish. Six months later I could speak all three languages. Nowadays it's helped me to come in and fit in with the locker room."
What are the major differences between hockey in Sweden vs. the NHL?
"The business side of it. In the NHL, you get paid way more and the organization has a different way in dealing with players. There are so many players, so many competitions [in the NHL]. And you can be traded. In Sweden, you don't have all that. When you sign with a team, it's so small that it's a family right away. The team helps you find an apartment, a car, you can never really be traded. That's the big difference. Would I want to go back [to Sweden], no. I like the way it is here. But there is more money involved, more media involved, more who talk about the league--that's the biggest difference. When you're over there you just play hockey. Here, you have to stay focused to make sure hockey stays No. 1 and the next game is always the most important."
What should Avalanche fans know about you?
"They're probably going to learn really fast that I like to interact with the fans. There aren't many days when I'm [ticked]. I came to the league so late that I can only enjoy every day. And I try to grind. They're not going to see me go coast to coast to top net, but I like to be a reliable player for the team."