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Gameday: A Night of Debuts

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
In their 30th game of 48 in this shortened season, it’s a night of debuts for the Carolina Hurricanes as Brett Bellemore makes his NHL debut and Tuomo Ruutu makes his season debut.

Michael Smith
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Bellemore, the fourth player to make his NHL debut with the Hurricanes this season, was recalled on Wednesday from the Charlotte Checkers, as Justin Faulk was shelved for two-to-four weeks with a second-degree MCL sprain.

“We were about to take off to Houston to play, and Jeff Daniels caught me in the parking lot and told me then and there,” Bellemore said of when he got the news of his first NHL recall. “After five years in [the AHL], you can’t assume anything.”

Bellemore, 24, follows in the footsteps of his Charlotte teammates Michal Jordan and Chris Terry, who each made their NHL debuts earlier this season.

“They said they loved the experience,” Bellemore said. “They always said it gives them a good reason to try to get back up here.”

And just like Jordan and Terry, Bellemore enters a strange locker room filled with familiar faces. Tonight, he’ll play defense in front of Dan Ellis, a common occurrence from just a few months ago.

“I walk in, and I’ve seen these guys. It helps,” Bellemore said. “You feel a little more confident and a little more at home.”

Prior to the morning skate, assistant coach Dave Lewis took Bellemore, a native of Windsor, Ont., aside, giving him a few quick pointers.

“[He said to] play with confidence, don’t hesitate and just do my thing,” Bellemore said. “If I play my game, everything will work out.”

Though Bellemore is patching a hole in the Canes defense left by Faulk, it’s difficult to replace a 21-year-old who averages 23:23 of ice time each night. Head coach Kirk Muller expects a simple game from Bellemore.

“He’s got good size. He should be excited. Not looking for him to do anything extraordinary, just a good, simple game,” Muller said. “Move the puck, use his body and play a good, physical game.”

Bellemore, sitting between Jay Harrison and Ellis in the locker room, was indeed excited.

“For the last five years, I’ve been dreaming,” he said. “I hear stories of the guys when they come down, they’ll talk about how it is up here, and it’s really exciting.”

In another debut, Ruutu will play in his first game of the season after missing the team’s initial 29 games after undergoing hip surgery in mid-December. He will be slotted on the fourth line at the outset, and Tim Wallace and Kevin Westgarth are expected to be the healthy scratches.

In net, Ellis will get his third straight start. Though the team has collected just a point in the last two games, Ellis has been strong, making 75 saves on 79 shots (.949 save percentage).

This will be the third of three meetings between Carolina and New Jersey this season, as the two become division rivals beginning in the 2013-14 campaign. Having won the two prior meetings coming into tonight, Carolina could sweep the season series for the first time since moving to North Carolina. Since the 2004-05 work stoppage, the Canes have won just two season series, once in 2005-06 (2-1-1) and most recently in 2008-09 (3-1-0).

After tonight’s game, the Canes will have a rather odd four-day break before their next match-up, a meaningful divisional tilt on Tuesday against Winnipeg.

“We look to push them right to this game tonight, and then give them a chance to recover and regroup, and that’s what will do over the next couple of days,” Muller said. “After that, it’s the playoff stretch run. It’s the first time we’ve said to them this morning about hey, let’s go all out and then get a few days to rest and recover.”

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