Eric Belanger has become good friends with the United States Postal Service over the past year with his constant change of addresses.
Breaking into the NHL with Los Angeles in the 2000-2001 season, Belanger was a mainstay with the Kings until September 2006 when the Kings traded him to Carolina right before the season started. After playing 56 games with the Hurricanes, Belanger was shipped to Nashville before the trade deadline. Not even able to suit up for his first Predator game, he was dealt the very next day to Atlanta where he helped the Thrashers make their first-ever playoff appearance.
“I’m really happy that I have a three-year deal,” Belanger said. “I feel comfortable already, I bought a house and my kids are going to pre-school.”
Being able to choose his new team this offseason, a stable hockey environment was one of the big draws of Minnesota.
“Some of the big reasons were a good team, a good organization, a stable organization, playing for a hockey city,” Belanger said of signing with Minnesota. “I’ve played in L.A., Atlanta and Carolina which are not the biggest [hockey] cities in the league.”
Belanger knew opening night he made the right decision. With the fans at a packed Xcel Energy Center on their feet before, during and after the game, the electricity in the building was something he had not often experienced with previous teams.
“You have the Canadian cities that are pretty loud, but after that, this is top-five in the League for sure.”ADJUSTING TO A NEW TEAM
Outside trading Manny Fernandez, the Wild were pretty quiet this offseason, only bringing in two new faces, Belanger and defenseman Sean Hill. Trying to break into a tight-knit group like the Wild can be difficult. Already having played with Mark Parrish and Pavol Demitra in Los Angeles, Belanger was able to find his comfort zone quickly in Minnesota.
“[Wild] made me feel comfortable right away, I think my personality is ‘what you see is what you get,’” Belanger said. “I like to come to the rink and have fun and that’s what I did and I’ve been thrown into the group pretty quick.”
Having fellow Quebec native Jacques Lemaire as a head coach has also helped Belanger adjust to the Wild.
“Jacques has such a big name in hockey playing in Montreal,” Belanger said. “Living in that area I heard a lot about him and Mario (Tremblay) also. His experience as a player and a coach has drawn me here.”
One of Belanger’s biggest adjustments on the ice was Lemaire’s system, which requires centers to be accountable on both ends of the ice. His respect and familiarity with Lemaire has helped Belanger understand his coach better and already feels comfortable in the system.
“I’m the kind of center Jacques probably likes in his system, responsible defensively,” he said. “I think proved at the end of last year in Atlanta that when I’m put with good players I can produce offensively.”
So far, Belanger has not disappointed, especially offensively. Developing a quick chemistry with Brian Rolston and Pierre-Marc Bouchard
, dubbed the “BBR Me ASAP Line” has been as hot as any in the league. Through six games, Rolston leads the club with seven points, while Belanger and Bouchard are tied for second with five points.
“I think it’s just something that happens,” Belanger said of the line’s chemistry. “You can’t push it, you can’t work at it, it’s just there.”
It’s not easy to find a home on a particular line with Lemaire as the head coach, but before this year, it wasn’t easy for Belanger to find a home anywhere. Things appear to be changing, even if his home address will not.