One look at Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's passport and it's quickly apparent his route to the NHL was different than most players. Sure - there are lots of Francophones in the NHL but they almost exclusively hail from Quebec. Bellermare is among just three players born in France currently in the NHL and only the ninth in league history.
Dig a little deeper and Bellemare's path is even more rare. He's the product of a single-parent upbringing and a mother with both heart and strength.
Ask Bellemare to describe his mother Frederique and he comes back with three quick words and the order is not an accident: "Tough. Fair. And kind," says Bellemare, with a soft and thoughtful smile on his face.
Bellemare is an athlete in the vein of French rugby players who are known for their toughness as much as their elan. His game on the rink is all about the mind and willingness to do things other won't. He blocks shots and throws his body around with abandon. But more than anything - he thinks. Watch the end of a Bellemare shift and as he's skating off the ice or sitting down on the bench - he's more often than not diagramming in the air to one of his linemates how they can do something better. He's the closest embodiment in today's NHL of a player/coach.
Today is Mother's Day and sons and daughters all over the world are celebrating their moms. Bellemare's mother is in Las Vegas right now getting acquainted with her newest grandson, Bellemare and his wife Hannah's son Leandre.
Bellemare is enjoying having his mom around for lots of reasons but chief among them is the influence she will have on his son.
"I'm going to try to raise my son the way she raised me," said Bellemare. "But it's difficult, because I was raised in a way in large part because there were a lot of difficulties and a lot of adversity. A lot of things I had to understand early or I had to learn early how to do it. It was because of the adversities. Hopefully my kid will never have to go through any of those problems I had to. I try to bring those values, hard work. It's why I'm here today, because I'm a hardworking guy and it's all because of her. But I expect she'll have an impact on him. I hope so.
She's here now. She's with her grandson and I can tell you that I know when I'm going to leave my son to her, he's not going to have it easy. That's the best part. It's going to be a grind for him too."
Every child has a different experience with his or her mother. And for a lot of hockey players - mom does a lot of different things which matter. From positive reinforcement to taping sticks to leading cheers.
"My mother is the reason why I'm here today. Not just because biologically she's the one who put me on earth, but we went through so much adversity when I was a kid. I should never be here today. Could've taken so many different paths. If you hear the stories of the neighbors or the friends that I had, where we lived, you'd never believe it," tells Bellemare. "It's all because she was strong-willing, strong-minded. Yeah, I know we're all going to say they mean the world to us but like I said, I should never been here today."
Bellemare tells a story about getting the money to play hockey and his mom, who was singlehandedly raising five kids and paying the whole freight from groceries to tuition to sports dues, explaining to him that he could have fun on the ice - but he also had to work hard.
"I couldn't just fool around. I had to be getting something out of it and if you don't work hard - that doesn't happen. She said, 'if you don't want to work hard - we can use the money for something else,'" said Bellemare, before laughing as he tells the next part of the story. "I was six or seven. And when I would come off the ice at the end of a game - I'd look up and see her in the stands. She'd take her hand and if she was happy with my effort, she would give me a thumbs up. If she wasn't happy, it was a thumbs down. I would be crying when I got the thumbs down. Sure, it was tough love. But it was what I needed and what our family needed. It's not just me, she raised five kids on her own and we're all decent in terms of emotional well-being and strength. Almost all of us have been on the national team of the sport that we play, and it's all her."
Bellemare is proud that his mom is now passing her version of wisdom and love to a new generation of kids.
"She found a job that would suit her. What better job than working with kids after raising five kids on her own? She's got her own at-home daycare, so every day she has four kids from two months old to three and a half years, before they start school," he said. "So she usually takes the kids at a young age. Sometimes she'll have like three newborn babies and one older and she works with those kids every day, all the way up until they're three and a half. Then when they're three and a half, they leave. They go to school, and my mom will get another group of kids. So it's satisfying and tiring. She's in Normandy. My big sister was on the international team for sport aerobics, and my big brother was on the national team for hockey, I'm still on the national team for hockey. My little sister was on the national team for gymnastics. She was in Beijing for the Olympics. Somebody had to have done pretty decent work to raise kids like that and that was all her."
Decent work, indeed. Happy Mother's day, to Frederique and all the moms out there.