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Mental toughness carried Belfour to Hall of Fame

by Dan Rosen

Craig Button laughed while recalling the time he witnessed Bob Gainey taking practice shots on Eddie Belfour.
"Eddie had hurt his knee the year after we won the Cup, so he was back in Dallas trying to rehab it," Button told Button worked in Dallas under Gainey, the team's GM, when Belfour was the goalie,  "Bob went down on the ice to shoot on him to help him get his rhythm. I said to Eddie after, 'Holy, Bob Gainey might have been a 50-goal scorer the way he was shooting them past you this morning.' "
Button then paused ever-so slightly, as if to transition into his main point about Belfour.
"Eddie just kind of gave me a little bit of a look when I said that, but the next day Bob Gainey went on the ice again to shoot on him and Eddie treated him like a 50-goal scorer. He never let one in. That's the kind of determination he had. I was totally kidding him, but Eddie had that defiance that you need to have to be a good goaltender."
Belfour had everything a goalie needed to be considered among the very best to ever play the position.

"I never played with another guy who prepared himself or had the focus that Eddie did as far as his position was concerned," told "He was a unique individual. I wouldn't say that socially he was one of the guys that hung out all the time because he was on his own program. He showed up at the rink early, he left late and he had a lot of things that he did to prepare" -- Joe Nieuwendyk on Eddie Belfour

Defiance was a big part of his success, but so, too, were preparation, intensity and a dose of quirkiness that kept him at a healthy distance from most of his teammates and allowed him to be as mentally and physically sharp as he possibly could.
It all led Belfour into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He will be enshrined with fellow Class of 2011 inductees Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour and Mark Howe on Monday in Toronto. Belfour and Nieuwendyk were teammates on Dallas' 1999 Cup-winning team. Nieuwendyk and Belfour played with Gilmour in Toronto late in their careers.
"I never played with another guy who prepared himself or had the focus that Eddie did as far as his position was concerned," Nieuwendyk told "He was a unique individual. I wouldn't say that socially he was one of the guys that hung out all the time because he was on his own program. He showed up at the rink early, he left late and he had a lot of things that he did to prepare."
One of Belfour's greatest attributes, one that also kept him away from his teammates, was his penchant for perfection. For instance, Nieuwendyk, Jeremy Roenick and Gary Roberts -- three guys that were teammates with Belfour at various stages of his career -- all talked to about the goalie's personal skate sharpener.
"The trainers had to take the road sharpening machine and put it out in the hallway because Eddie would be there until 12 or 1 o'clock in the morning sharpening his skates and the trainers were sick and tired of waiting around for him," Roenick said. "They put the road machine out in the hallway and put a sign up that read, 'Eddie's Sharpening Machine.' They just let him stay there all night and sharpen his skates because he liked to do it himself."


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"If things didn't go well for Eddie, he was in there fixing his equipment, sharpening his skates or changing the blades on his skates at 12 o'clock at night," confirmed Roberts. "If something didn't feel right, he knew and he addressed it right away."
Belfour's quirks allowed him to be consistently excellent. He's third on the all-time wins list with 484 and tied for ninth with 76 shutouts. He had nine seasons of 30 or more wins, including twice eclipsing 40. He had a sub-2.50 goals-against average eight times, including a career-low 1.88 in 1997-98 and then a 1.99 GAA the following season.
Belfour's teams made the playoffs 13 times, advancing beyond the first round eight times. He won a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, but also played in the Cup Final with Chicago in 1992 and again with the Stars in 2000. Belfour is the last goalie to win a playoff series for the Maple Leafs (against Ottawa in 2004).
He won the Calder Trophy and Vezina Trophy in 1991 for winning 43 games for the Blackhawks. He won the Vezina again in 1993. Belfour was also a four-time recipient of the Jennings Trophy and was selected to the NHL All-Star Game six times.
"He had all kinds of things going on, but boy did he have the respect of his teammates because he took his position so seriously and we knew we could count on him," Nieuwendyk said. "He was just a wall for us back there, a big-game goaltender."
Belfour came a long way after not being drafted out of the University of North Dakota. Roenick said he had immediate success in Chicago because he played with a "no-fear, crazy, off-the-hook" mentality that he carried with him off the ice.
"Goaltenders are relatively pretty quiet, but Eddie would come into the locker room if something was going wrong and he would scream at individuals," Roenick said. "He would literally call somebody out and yell at them to wake up. For instance, if one of his defenseman didn't cover a guy or made a mistake, Eddie would go after him."
The best part is Belfour didn't care who it was.
"It would start a shouting match, but there was no animosity," Roenick said. "The guy went out and played hard. The defenseman didn't whimper, like some guys do today."
Belfour would eventually wear out his welcome in Chicago right around the time Jeff Hackett was starting to become less of a No. 2 and more of a No. 1A alongside Belfour. The Blackhawks traded Belfour to San Jose midway through the 1996-97 season, but he left with 201 wins in 415 appearances, trailing fellow Hockey Hall of Fame members Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall in both categories in Chicago's record book.
Ed Belfour and Joe Nieuwendyk were teammates on the Dallas Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup-winning team. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Silicon Valley didn't treat Belfour kindly. He played 13 games, won only three, and quickly bolted for Dallas via free agency. The Stars opted to sign Belfour instead of Andy Moog, who won 28 games for them in 1996-97.
"Andy Moog was a good, good goaltender. It wasn't that we didn't want Andy, but you're always looking to upgrade your team and we thought Eddie was a chance to upgrade our team," said Button, who now works as an analyst for NHL Network and TSN. "We were fortunate because he ended up in San Jose and had a half season that wasn't great. Maybe people weren't sure about him, but we thought he was a guy that could upgrade our goaltending. We weren't worried that he had a half year that wasn't good."
Just like he did in Chicago, Belfour made an immediate impact in Dallas, winning 37 games in his first season and taking the Stars to the Western Conference Finals. However, Belfour seemed to get rattled by the Red Wings and the Stars lost in six games.
"When teams find the soft underbelly of a team or player, they're going to try to exploit it to every extent. Detroit did that with Eddie," Button said. "They irritated him. They bothered him. There were a couple of moments when he let it get the better of him. Bob Gainey went to Eddie at the end of that season and said, 'I believe in you, you're our guy, but do you want to win?' Eddie said, 'I want to win more than anything else.' "
As Button pointed out, this was at a time when critics were saying the Stars would never win with Belfour because his competitiveness would always get the better of him. But, with Gainey's wisdom of winning the Cup five times as a player in Montreal, Belfour settled down and dug in the following spring.
He led Dallas to its only Stanley Cup championship, posting a 1.67 GAA and .935 save percentage in 23 playoff appearances. Belfour topped Grant Fuhr and the Blues in the second round, Patrick Roy and the Avalanche in the Conference Finals, and then Dominik Hasek and the Sabres in a legendary duel in the Stanley Cup Final.
"The playoffs started, teams were still trying to rattle him because they thought they could do it, but he never, ever succumbed," Button said. "When he won, I know Bob Gainey was so proud of him because everybody wants to win, but how many people are prepared to take the feedback to heart. Eddie did that."
Belfour got the Stars back to the Cup Final in 2000, only this time he couldn't beat Martin Brodeur and the Devils. Soon enough he was wearing out his welcome in Dallas as a young Marty Turco started to get more and more playing time and accolades. Belfour departed after four seasons and signed with Toronto, where he stayed for the next three seasons.
He won 93 games as a Maple Leaf and helped them get to the postseason in both 2003 and 2004.
"I loved playing in Toronto," Belfour said. "It was a challenge and I enjoyed that challenge. I loved playing in front of the crowd there. If you give 110 percent every day and compete as hard as you can, the fans recognize that and that's what they want. I loved being part of the hockey mecca of the world.
"My only regret is not being able to win a Stanley Cup there."
He still made quite an impression before moving on to finish his NHL career with one season in Florida.
"When Eddie came to Toronto I saw he had a routine in place and he knew what he had to do to be ready to play," Roberts said. "Whether it was stretching, working on his equipment, sharpening his own skates -- Eddie did what he had to do to be ready to play. I loved how Eddie prepared, how he had to have his food at a certain time and how he had to eat certain foods. I have a lot of respect for Eddie Belfour for how he prepared to play the game."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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