In what has become a Wild tradition, Shawn Belle and Aaron Sickman embrace after a morning skate.
Shawn Belle is attending the Minnesota Wild’s 2007 Prospects Camp, but something doesn’t seem right. Belle doesn’t look like a typical prospect still growing into a wiry frame. He’s filled out his 6-foot-2, 238 pound frame long ago.
Neither does Belle act like a youngster that stays quiet in the locker room, content to watch what everybody else does.
During his time with the Wild last year (he and Benoit Pouliot are the only “prospects” to have played with the Wild last year), Belle established himself as an easygoing cut-up, even capable of endearing himself to the mercurial Manny Fernandez.
On Tuesday, the first day of the Prospects Camp, Belle walked into the locker room after the first session and immediately walked up to Wild media relations guru, Aaron Sickman. When Sickman offered his hand for a shake, Belle announced, “Friends don’t shake hands. Friends hug!”
To the delight of the surrounding players, Belle offered Sickman a big, sweat-soaked bear hug, which he has repeated every day since.
Belle has no problem enjoying himself off the ice, but is focus isn’t wavering when he’s on it. As he’s been told, and as he’s well aware, this is a big summer for him.
Due to injuries to the defensive corps last season, Belle was called up to the Wild and played in nine games. While he posted a +4 rating, his play, and his ice time could be considered erratic. In one game at Edmonton, he played a grand total of 1:45. He played less than 10 minutes in four straight games, and immediately followed that up with a career-high 17:38 of ice time in a home game against the Oilers.
“Last year was a great taste of the National Hockey League,” said Belle on Wednesday. “I felt I played fairly well, and the more I played, the more comfortable I got out there on the ice.”
Belle finished out the season with the Houston Aeros. When he left Texas for his summer home in Edmonton, he hoped his next visit to Texas would be to play the Dallas Stars, and not the San Antonio Rampage.
“I’ve been working out pretty hard, trying to get in the best shape as possible and do what I have to do to make the club. (Management) told me to come back in shape to give myself a chance.”
Belle did take one break from working out this summer to travel to Spain with Aeros goaltender, Tony Quesada. Having never met before last season, the two began a friendship and a mutual love for the Travel Channel turned into a trip to Europe.
“We both watched a TV show documenting some of the nicest travel spots in the world,” he recalled. “I’ve always thought about going somewhere other than Mexico, and Tony and I started talking about places we want to go, and we both saw the exact same show and decided to go there.”
Back in Minnesota, Belle is hard at work on the ice, and also serving in a mentor role to prospects making their first visit to the camp, and to Minnesota.
“Some guys have come up to me, not necessarily because I’ve played in the NHL, but because I’ve been here and know what’s going on and what to do,” he said.
Mr. Sickman better be ready for a lot of sweaty hugs.