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Behind The Bench

Another storm is brewing because of Hitchcock....

Belfour mad at Hitch's 'games'

By Jennifer Floyd
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. - Stars goalie Ed Belfour was a little mad, a little bemused and a lot annoyed Tuesday when prodded about coach Ken Hitchcock's recent comments that competition might motivate Belfour. Hitchcock even said he would consider playing streaking backup goalie Marty Turco in Detroit against the conference-leading Red Wings on Saturday.

OK, Belfour was a lot mad. Mostly at Hitchcock.

"He's the leader of this team, or supposed to be the leader," Belfour said. "So he needs to look himself in the mirror and decide what he needs to do better, and maybe that is his way of deciding to start putting pressure on players and playing mind games. "If he wants to play that game with me, fine; for every action there is reactions. He did that last year, and it didn't work. It backfired."

Belfour and Hitchcock had a communication problem last season, which led to Belfour leaving the team without permission for a couple of days in January. And while Tuesday's frayed nerves paled in comparison, Hitchcock was quick to clarify that he wasn't talking about holding a winner-take-all competition between Belfour and Turco, who won his seventh consecutive decision Tuesday, making 34 saves in a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay. Turco entered Tuesday with a 2.16 goals-against average and 91.7 save percentage.

Hitchcock said he was talking about competition as a way to make the team better.

"If both guys are playing well, both guys play. If one guy goes hotter, one guy has to play. And that's the bottom line. That is the focus on today," Hitchcock said. "Those aren't mind games. Those are living in the present day. ... We're in seventh place. We're like three points out of ninth place. That is where we are at. That is reality."

Something got lost in the translation to Belfour, who admits he first heard of Hitchcock's "what is clear is you will be judged on your performance" comments from a reporter. The news did not motivate him.

"If you look at my history, [if] you screw with me, it doesn't work. It ain't going to work. It is just going to make things worse," said Belfour, who is expected to start tonight at Florida. "They tried to do that to me in Chicago, and it backfired. You know I got traded, and they haven't made the playoffs since - gone through how many coaches and how many goalies?"

Belfour has struggled at times this season, as his 2.69 goals-against average and a 89.6 save percentage suggest, but he is also an extremely focused, motivated athlete who has been one of the Stars' best players the past three seasons. He feels the history should give him a little leeway.

Hitchcock said he doesn't disagree and pointed out he does keep going back to Belfour.

"Whether it's Ed Belfour or Joe Nieuwendyk or Mike Modano, it really doesn't matter if they've had a bad game," Hitchcock said. "You keep going back to that because you know they are going to be able to turn it around. They have that inner motivation."

Motivation has never been a problem for Belfour. What has been a problem is when Belfour doesn't feel respected.

It happened in Chicago. He does not want to feel that he is in a battle for his job every night, that if he doesn't play well, he is going to get benched.

"My record speaks for itself. I know how to win," Belfour said. "I don't need anybody telling me what I need to do and what I don't need to do. I know what I need to do to win. I'm a winner. I've always been a winner, always will be, and, if he wants to push the panic button, go ahead."

Belfour is in the final year of his contract. The Stars told him in July they planned to wait until season's end before making a decision on whether to re-sign him. He is also one of the three goalies vying to be named the starter for Team Canada when the 2002 Winter Olympics begin in February.

So Belfour has any number of reasons to be motivated to get his game back on track. What he says he doesn't need is Hitchcock trying to motivate him.

"Maybe, we should hire another coach," Belfour quipped, "so we can push him."

Jennifer Floyd, (817) 390-7760

Since this article was published, Hitchcock has been fired with Rick Wilson taking over for the rest of the season.  Eddie is now a popular figure in the rumor mill ( see 2001-2002 game summary page under game 62 for details).