Not every young hockey player is swift out of the blocks and makes a seamless jump from junior or college to the pro game.
Some, like Carolina Hurricanes 25-year-old rookie defenceman Brett Bellemore, need more minor-league seasoning than others.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he's physical and tough. He's a gritty stay-at-home blue-liner who has become more and more dependable as his time in the NHL has increased.
Bellemore has been worth the wait after more than 300 AHL games.
So what kept him going? What kept his spirits high as he toiled in the AHL?
"My coaches were really good down there [with the Charlotte Checkers]," said Bellemore, who mentioned in particular head coach Jeff Daniels, assistant coach Geordie Kinnear and the previous head coach Tom Rowe.
In Daniels and Kinnear, Bellemore had a couple of kindred spirits. Both spent several seasons in the minors before getting a shot in the NHL.
Kinnear helped the Peterborough Petes win the 1992-93 OHL championship, but waited seven seasons in the minors, including a Calder Cup title with the 1994-95 Albany River Rats, before he finally suited up for his first NHL game. But Kinnear played only four games for the Atlanta Thrashers in March 2000 and then had to retire the next season because of a spinal injury.
'They kept me positive'
Daniels primarily was a minor leaguer for 11 years until he became a full-time NHLer with the Hurricanes. It was worth it. He went to a Stanley Cup final with Carolina in 2002.
"They kept me positive," Bellemore said. "They told me to keep playing my game and eventually I would get my chance. They kept telling me success stories of players who had to spend a lot of time in the minors. So I kept working hard, developing and adding elements to my game.
"I knew I would eventually get my shot and that I had to make the most of it."
Bellemore received that chance last season, when, after 323 AHL regular season and playoff games, he was promoted to the Hurricanes midway through the lockout-shortened season for an eight-game stint.
In his NHL debut, Bellemore faced the legendary Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur was playing in career game No. 1,205 and, as he has done on so many occasions, stole the show. He was returning from an injury, held his team in with a strong first period and managed to get credit for the game's first goal.
During delayed penalty to New Jersey defenceman Marek Zidlicky, the Devils goalie swept aside a shot from Carolina's Patrick Dwyer. The puck was retrieved by Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal, but his pass back to Tim Gleason on the point bounced off the boards and past his teammate, only to slide all the way down the ice and into an empty Carolina net.
Bellemore, meanwhile, played on 12 minutes and 25 seconds, was hauled into the penalty box for roughing with New Jersey's Ryan Carter midway through the second period and managed to get a snap shot on Brodeur a couple of shifts later.
'I was so nervous'
"I was so nervous," Bellemore said. "I was just trying to play my game."
Bellemore learned the game on a backyard rink in Windsor, Ont., that his father built every winter. He played three junior seasons with the OHL Plymouth Whalers and wasn't drafted until the sixth round (162nd overall) in 2007.
Hurricanes then pro scout Greg Stefan, now the team's goalie coach, deserves the credit. He was with the Whalers' front office when Bellemore began playing there.
In his draft year, Bellemore was a plus-48 in the regular season and then he helped the Whalers win the 2006-07 OHL championship. He also helped them move on to the Memorial Cup semifinal against the eventual champions, the Vancouver Giants.
Now six years later, he's finding his way in the NHL.
"I look at a guy like Jay Harrison," said Bellemore, who played in his 25th career game NHL earlier this week. "He also spent a lot of time in the minors [seven seasons, including one in Europe] before he got his opportunity to play regularly.
"He really helped me when I got called up last year. All the guys really have been good to me and helpful since I got here."
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