Some players are known more for their work ethic and grit than their ability to produce on the scoreboard. Others wear the preverbal hearts on their sleeves, fan favorites whose reputations are defined by the energy and passion with which they play the game.
And then…there is Rob Bellamy.
“There’s no question, he is one of the most intense players I have ever coached,” explained University of Maine head coach Tim Whitehead, who witnessed, first hand, Bellamy’s development over a span of four seasons with the Black Bears. “Rob’s just an all-out, in-your-face competitor. He’ll hit anything that moves.”
Bellamy was drafted by the Flyers in the third round (92nd overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the summer prior to his arrival in Maine. The 6’1’’, 205-pound right winger recently wrapped up his NCAA career and signed an entry level contract with the Flyers.
|Rob Bellamy spent the last four seasons with the University of Maine. (photo by Michael York) |
That deal does not begin, in essence, until July 1. In the meantime, Bellamy has been inked to an amateur tryout contract (ATO) by the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL for the remainder of the season. He recently made his pro debut.
“I’m so excited to be here and am ready to get started,” said the 22-year-old Bellamy. “Whatever is needed of me, I’ll be ready. So far, it’s been a great experience, just getting familiar with the organization and practicing with the Phantoms. I’m glad to be in Philly for the next phase of my career.”
And Whitehead couldn’t be prouder, himself.
“This is great for Rob,” he said. “He packed a heck of a lot into his four years at Maine. Three NCAA Tournaments, two Frozen Fours, and he was our captain for his senior year. I really think he’s a classic Philadelphia-style player, and he’s going to do well down there. The fans are going to love him.”
All in the family
Bellamy was born on May 30, 1985 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was six when his family moved roughly 90 miles west to Westfield, Massachusetts, right out side of Springfield.
“I actually began playing hockey when I was about three,” he explained. “I started playing youth hockey back in Providence, and continued moving up the ranks in Springfield after my family moved there. As everyone knows, New England is a real hotbed of hockey, so the opportunity to learn and play in top notch programs was always there.”
Athletics played a huge role in Bellamy’s youth, as he grew up playing a variety of sports in addition to hockey. This aspect of his development is a true family trait, as exemplified by his sister, Kacey, who is currently a star junior defenseman at the University of New Hampshire.
Bellamy also has a younger brother, Corey, who recently won a D-III state title as a senior at Westfield High School. Their younger sister, Lindsey, is a junior who serves as a manager for the team and is a star softball pitcher for Westfield.
Not surprisingly, Bellamy’s parents, Robert, Sr. and Maura, were also athletically inclined.
“They sure were. But, the odd thing is, neither of them played hockey,” he said. “I was the first hockey player in the family. My dad played baseball, basketball and football, and my mom played softball. It’s kind of ironic.
“But my parents have always been my biggest supporters. They’ve always pointed me in the right direction, and I’ve always been able to lean on them and count on them for anything.”
Though he excelled in multiple sports while growing up, Bellamy readily asserts that he’s only had one true passion all along.
“Oh yeah, it’s always been hockey,” he said. “Absolutely. I loved playing baseball, football lacrosse… but there’s nothing like hockey. I’ve been in love with this game forever, and there’s nothing else I’ve wanted to do but eventually play hockey professionally.
“I think that the game suits my personality perfectly. It’s hard-hitting, very fast-paced and there’s constant motion. To me, it’s the most exciting game to watch and play.”
Blazing a trail
Growing up in New England, Bellamy was a big Boston Bruins fan. But the player he admired most only played two seasons with the team, from 2000-02: Worcester, Massachusetts native Bill Guerin.
“He’s always been my favorite player and has been someone I’ve tried to sort of pattern my game after,” he explained. “Billy grew up in the same general area as me, so there were a lot of young players who really looked up to him. We had a similar background, and I loved his style of play, a great combination of skill and aggressiveness.”
In addition to Guerin, Bellamy counts Bruins legend Cam Neely as one of his favorites.
“What can you say about Cam Neely?” he asked, rhetorically. “He was one of the greatest power forwards of all time. He was probably an idol to more kids in New England than any other player during that time.”
In 2002-03, Bellamy arrived at the prestigious Berkshire Academy in Sheffield, Massachusetts. The institution would serve as the launching pad to his eventual NCAA career.
At Berkshire, Bellamy played football, hockey and lacrosse. As a linebacker, he was voted the Most Improved Player as the team went undefeated. On the ice that season, he was named All-League at right wing in hockey, notching 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists) in 32 games.
From there, it was on to the Junior A-level with the New England Jr. Coyotes, where he would serve under the tutelage of coaches Gary Dineen and Lincoln Flagg. This was also that same program that produced a Boston College and NHL-bound Guerin back in the late 80s.
Bellamy established himself as one of the top Junior A players in New England during the 2003-04 campaign. He led a contending squad in scoring with 60 points (27 goals, 33 assists) in 49 games, while serving as team captain. Along the way, he earned a good deal of attention for his work ethic and consistent displays of improvement.
"Rob is fearless,” explained Dineen, prior to the end of that season. “He enjoys hitting. He goes to the net with a purpose and he'll hang around in front. With the exception of Billy Guerin, he's probably the toughest player we've ever had here."
|Rob Bellamy was drafted by the Flyers in the third round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. (Getty Images) |
High praise, indeed. In fact, Bellamy’s prospects were looking very solid at that point.
While still at Berkshire, he had committed to play college hockey at Maine. As he prepared to make the transition that summer, the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau ranked him 66th among North American skaters in its final report for the upcoming entry draft.
An exciting time
As draft day approached, Bellamy knew that several teams were interested in bringing him into the fold. But he sensed that becoming a member of the Flyers organization was perhaps the strongest possibility.
“It was a matter of waiting around a bit to see where I would end up going,” he said. “The Flyers only had one pick on the first day. They didn’t have a first or second rounder. I had a few interviews with them before the draft, but when they finally called my name, it was just incredible.
“That was definitely one of the best moments of my life. The Flyers are a first class organization and I think that their mentality fits my style perfectly. I was thrilled to be drafted by Philly.”
Paul Holmgren, then the Flyers’ assistant general manager, was one of several team officials who spoke highly of Bellamy’s potential on draft day.
“He's a high-energy forward who loves to play a physical game,” he said. “He’s a good skater. We’re looking forward to watching him over the next four years at the University of Maine, to see how he develops. We’re extremely excited to have him. He brings a lot of energy to the table.”
After officially becoming an NHL prospect, Bellamy’s attention shifted to a Maine, where he would begin his NCAA career in the fall of 2004.
“It was such an exciting time for me,” he recalled. “Coming out of juniors, I had a lot of confidence, but just getting drafted just took that to another level. I couldn’t wait to get to Maine. I had fallen in love with the campus, the [Alfond Sports Arena] in Orono, and their fans back when I was at Berkshire. I really felt that this was the perfect fit for me, and today, I feel that it really worked out that way.”
Bellamy’s debut season with the Black Bears was one of acclamation. He would appear in 28 games for the team, notching seven points (three goals, four assists). A broken hand suffered in practice in mid-March would force him to miss the Hockey East semifinal and NCAA Tournament games.
He returned with a very strong sophomore season, taking on more responsibility and an increased role with the team, which advanced all the way to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee. Maine would fall to Wisconsin, 5-2, in the national semifinals, but the season was an overall success.
“I really felt that I was kind of coming into my own and finding my role with the team as a sophomore,” said Bellamy, who finished with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) for the year. “I was definitely getting more comfortable and things were coming a little easier.
“Making it to the Frozen Four was a great accomplishment for the team, and an incredible experience. It just made us want to return the following year that much more.”Leading by example
The Black Bears would return to the Frozen Four in 2007, losing again in the semifinals to the eventual national champion Michigan State, 4-2 in St. Louis.
As the 2006-07 season had progressed, however, Bellamy blossomed into one of the upper class leaders on the team. Offensively, he had a down year as a junior, recording just eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 37 games.
But his true value to the team was the effort he put out every night, and the unsung aspects of his game away from the puck.
“Rob became a true leader by example,” said Whitehead. “You couldn’t ask for a better effort than he gave every night. He was automatic. You knew what you were going to get out of Rob, game in and game out, and that was a very energetic, competent performance.
“He developed into a strong defensive player and an excellent penalty killer. He also had a huge effect as an intimidating presence. When you hit hard and effectively like he could, it’s going to have an impact on the game, and it did.”
Heading into the 2007-08 campaign, Bellamy’s senior year, the Maine program entered unfamiliar territory. With a number of key players gone from the previous year, the suddenly youthful and inexperienced Black Bears moved from contention to an essential state of rebuilding.
Whitehead and his staff agreed that Bellamy was the best choice as captain for his final season. Maine would endure a tough season, going 13-18-3 overall and missing out on the NCAA Tournament. But the team battled hard all season and, as Bellamy sees it, is in very good shape moving forward.
|Rob Bellamy signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers on March 19, 2008. (photo by Michael York) |
“First of all, it was just a tremendous honor to be named captain,” said Bellamy, who finished the season third on the team with 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists) and 61 penalty minutes in 33 games. “That says a lot about the faith the coaching staff has in you. But you still have to go out and live up to the challenges of that role. You have to be that leader and mentor to the younger guys and help them along.”
Looking back, Bellamy has nothing but fond memories and no regrets about his time at Maine.
“Overall, it was a great four years,” he said. “Maine is a great hockey factory, and has produced some incredible players who have gone on to play in the NHL over the years. I feel like I gained a lot there, developing as a player and as a person, and gaining a lot of confidence and responsibility.
“As much as I can’t wait to get started in the pros, I’m really going to miss it.”
The next step
Less than a week after the season ended, Bellamy was on his way to Philadelphia to join the Phantoms. On March 19, he officially signed with the Flyers, and made his pro debut on April 2, registering one shot.
“It’s tough to put into words how excited I am to start in the pros,” he said. “This is the next step in my development, and everything is new, in a way. But, I’m looking to make the best of every opportunity.”
Bellamy has looked very strong and has fit in at practice. Phantoms head coach Craig Berube has been impressed with the young forward thus far.
“The first impressions I’ve had are that this is a really hard working kid who is coming in with the right attitude,” he said. “He’s very intense. So far, in our practices and workouts, he’s been aggressive and very energetic. He‘s one of the young kids we‘ve brought in who have helped raise the intensity in practice.”
The Phantoms are presently engaged in a battle for first place in the AHL’s East Division.
Regardless of what the remainder of this season holds, Bellamy has learned to keep an even keel and take nothing for granted.
“I’m going to continue to work hard now, and if the opportunity to play comes, I’m going to make the best of it,” he said. “I realize that this is a learning process, and that the jump from the NCAAs to the pros is not an easy one, obviously. The game here is faster and the players are bigger, stronger and even more skilled.”
Added Whitehead: “The great thing about Rob is he’s very honest with others as well as himself. There are things he needs to work on, skill-wise, but he knows that’s not why Philly drafted him. He understands that he’s never going to quarterback a power play, for instance, but he will gladly run the opposing point man through the boards on the [penalty kill].
“The thing is, though, he’ll do it cleanly. He’s an incredibly hard hitter; that’s the mindset he brings to the rink. He’s very tenacious and willing. He back checks with so much energy and has great speed to go along with it. But his work ethic and determination are the best assets he has.”
Assets that will, no doubt, serve him well in the next stage of his career.