RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Bellemore is a nice guy, but he expects to add more grit to his game as training camp nears.
He worked out on and off the ice in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario this past summer, and similar to years past set a goal of adding something to his game for the upcoming season.
“Altogether, I want to be a little meaner, a little more ‘in your face’ than I was last year,” Bellemore said following an informal skate at Raleigh Center Ice last week.
“I only had two, three fights last year which I’ve never really considered my kind of job. Getting in guys’ faces and havin’ to answer the bell a couple more times, that’s what I do, but just be altogether mean and really hard to play against.”
As Carolina’s sixth-round draft choice (162nd overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry draft, the six-foot-four-inch, 225-pounder further developed his defensive game last year, and completed his first full season playing a career-high 64 games to go along with the eight he appeared in previously in 2012-2013.
While he posted a career-high eight points (2g, 6a), more importantly, he put up significant numbers in areas that defensemen are expected to rank highly in – hits and block shots.
Bellemore finished second on the Hurricanes and in the NHL amongst rookie defensemen in hits (169) and finished fourth on the team in blocked shots (98).
He understands that any adjustment in his game, in this case, playing meaner, will have to complement playing effective and productive defense.
“There’s always a good balance,” Bellemore continued.
“You don’t want to go runnin’ around tryin’ to make a hit, ‘cause that takes you out of position and that’s when you get scored on. I’ve always been a defense-first kind of guy and work in my hits whenever I can, so I’ve gotta’ be careful – ever so slightly with little plays – just to be intimidating and being in guys’ faces. I think that might even help with the defense because if they don’t want to go in the corner with me, that’s to my benefit.”
As much as Bellemore anticipates and will want to engage opposing players physically, he is still learning the NHL game after paying his dues playing just over four seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) in Charlotte and Albany.
“Little tips and tricks here and there,” Bellemore said of what he picked up from playing with 11-year NHL defenseman Ron Hainsey.
“Ronny was great to play with for a while there. He’s a true professional…I learned about the league and that was the biggest part about last year.”
In addition to playing tough and getting into a few fights last season, Bellemore also showed that he could provide defensive support and not be a liability.
For a 19-game stretch last season he posted an even plus-minus rating.
Though he missed nine games due to lower body and concussion injuries, Bellemore was also a healthy scratch for another nine contests, as the Hurricanes back end had more than its share of bodies to fill the roster on game nights.
Thus, paying attention to detail will be important to the 26-year old blueliner, particularly as he returns to earn a spot in the lineup for the upcoming season with new coach Bill Peters and his staff watching.
Bellemore sees an opportunity to become an engaging defensive asset who will help his teammates when needed, but who will be able to get, keep and move the puck as needed.
He’s constantly learning and appreciating the opportunity he has to earn a regular spot on the Carolina blue line.
That’s why it’s not surprising to see him sitting in his stall following informal skates, practices and games.
He soaks in everything going on around him, long after many of the other players have left because he understands that it’s not a given that he has earned his place just yet – after playing only one full NHL season.
The Hurricanes re-signed him to a one-year, two-way deal back in late July.
“I understand the point that I’m considered young,” Bellemore said.
“I still gotta’ earn my spot, just like everyone here. I just really have to prove to them that I should be here and I’m willing to put in the work and earn a spot to stick around and try and win it all this year.”
As the players began more battle-style drills during their recent workout at RCI on Friday, you could see Bellemore was in his element.
He put in the reps and dished out the hits and continued to further hone the balance between playing grittier and meaner while doing it responsibly in the defensive end of the ice.
That will be the only way it will work for him as he seeks to solidify a regular shift and playing time on the ice with the Hurricanes and in the NHL this season.