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Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour
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High Profile

A rare glimpse at Eddie...



By MICHAEL GRANBERRY / The Dallas Morning News

Huy Nguyen / DMN
"From the time you're 4 or 5 years old, growing up playing hockey in Canada, you dream about winning the [Stanley] Cup," says Belfour.

Late one night in June 1999, Alma Belfour sat alone in her living room, watching the television. Nervous as a cat, she said a prayer in the hope that her son, Eddie, could prevent the Buffalo Sabres from scoring a goal in triple overtime of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. When Brett Hull flicked the winning shot over the outstretched mitt of Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek, giving the Dallas Stars their first championship, Mrs. Belfour sat and cried. It was the culmination of something every Canadian boy grows up dreaming about. Within minutes, the phone started ringing and didn't stop for days.

Before she could fall asleep, a kid rang the doorbell and handed her a Stanley Cup made of aluminum foil. It didn't seem to matter that it was the middle of the night. Carman, a small town on the cold, flat prairies of Manitoba, where Alma's boy Eddie grew up, was celebrating like never before.

Ed-die, Ed-die had put it on the map. And the only thing left was the party.

A new goal

Two years later, the Dallas Stars goaltender is sitting on the banks of Lake Ouachita, in one of his favorite corners of Arkansas. He has a pole in the water and is banking on live bait and hope.
"I got him on the dock!" he says excitedly.

He's talking about "Walter," a big-mouth bass who, so far, has proved far more elusive than the Stanley Cup.

"I went to thumb him, grab him, pick him up, but I didn't have a good hold. He's big, 5 to 7 pounds, and I wanted him bad. I still do."

But, alas, the more you want something, the harder it is to have, he says ruefully, unwittingly providing what could be the story line for his life and career.

So it was with the Cup; so it is with Walter. Mr. Belfour, 36, played a full decade in the National Hockey League before he could even think about taking the Cup back to Carman.

Walter, he vows, won't take nearly as long.

Guy talk

Eddie Belfour can spend hours "talkin' guy talk you know, huntin', fishin'." He's a self-proclaimed maniac for catching big-mouth bass, stalking deer and wild hogs, and racing cars at 175 mph.
His coach, mother, and best friend all say he's a lot like the custom Chevys he builds at his "Carman" factory in Michigan: a hard exterior with a soft interior. Those who know him see him as the embodiment of the Kris Kristofferson song "A walking contradiction, partly truth, partly fiction."

The truth is, Ed-die, Ed-die as Dallas fans still like to chant is close to being a human Walter. Elusive. Mysterious. Even slippery. This is a guy who never gives much away, for fear that you'll close in and score with a slap shot he didn't expect. He is, say those who know him best, as guarded as they come.

"He's an athlete who's like a lot of other really elite athletes," says his coach, Ken Hitchcock. "They are so completely focused and so competitive that it sometimes gets them into trouble."

Part of that trouble occurred in March 2000, when Mr. Belfour acquired a rap sheet. He showed up intoxicated at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, scuffled with a security guard, and then resisted arrest by a pepper-spraying contingent from the Dallas Police Department.

It's an incident he declines to discuss. Says his coach, "The thing I don't like is when his temper takes place off the ice. That's an issue we've worked really hard with him on."

But the same man who later apologized to the police and the community has been a favorite for years with the Make-a-Wish Foundation of North Texas. In working with children who suffer life-threatening illnesses, he would "rather be with them," his mom says, than spend time talking about them, which he finds difficult.

A lasting example of Mr. Belfour's good will was evidenced in his treatment of 12-year-old Travis Allred, who died last year of multiple organ failure after years of being sick. It's the Travises of the world, he says, who prompted him to have a gold wishbone painted on his facemask, giving him the feeling that he's playing for them.

Teammate Mike Modano calls Mr. Belfour "a very intense individual who takes his job very seriously. He's very quiet and reserved, so his anger builds up over time. You can only take so much, and as hockey players, we keep a lot bottled in. Maybe it's because most of us are farm kids, who come from these little-bitty towns. Unlike the athletes in other sports, we're not very outspoken. So our anger builds up over time and then you have explosions."

Another of those explosions came last January, when Mr. Belfour erupted at the coach, who says that he and the goalie were and are good friends. As with the fracas at The Mansion, Mr. Belfour has kept quiet about this high-profile incident, which led to the goalie flying home alone from Boston after a dispute with Mr. Hitchcock over playing time.

"Our lines of communication, which had been so open, had suddenly gotten closed with some tiny issues that festered and then blew up," the coach says. "We both could have done a better job of keeping the lines completely open, and we're working on that this year."

In the midst of an inauspicious debut, the Stars have struggled to reach .500 in their first season in American Airlines Center, which Mr. Belfour admits is nowhere near the rock 'n' roll horror chamber for opponents that Reunion Arena was. You can tell he misses the old place, because it seems as if half of him is still back there, doing his thing for the Reunion Rowdies, who are now conspicuously absent.

Arena woes notwithstanding, he does hope to keep playing for the Stars, "if," in his words, "they'll have me."

As one who prides himself on understanding and motivating even difficult players, Mr. Hitchcock calls his goalie and friend an extraordinary talent albeit one who frequently requires special handling.

"He will do anything and everything to try to be his best," says the coach, punctuating his comment with a sly smile, "and sometimes, a guy like that can be the biggest pain ... "

Bench warmer

The oldest of two children, Eddie Belfour was a boy who, by today's standards, might have been pegged "hyperactive." Those who knew him describe a kid with almost boundless energy.
"When other kids were sitting down being good, Eddie would be running around," says his mom, who still lives in the family's three-bedroom bungalow in Carman with Mr. Belfour's father, Henry Belfour, a public works employee. (On the night the Stars won the Cup in 1999, Henry was up north, helping a farmer friend bring in his crops.)

Growing up, little Eddie loved to play, hockey and basketball especially. He idolized Tony Esposito of the Chicago Blackhawks and adored his dogs, which his mom describes as a succession of mutts named Snowball, Sam, and Rusty.

Buddy Voth, who has known "the Eagle" since kindergarten and now works as the business manager of Eagle Enterprises, says Mr. Belfour failed to make the high school team on his first try. Even as a senior, he was warming the bench as a third-string goalie until fate rewrote the script.

When some of the players on the team, including Mr. Voth, got suspended for staying out late drinking with the cheerleaders, the coach felt vindicated for taking action. But one of the players was the son of the principal, who didn't want his son suspended, so he fired the coach and took over the team himself.

"Eddie knew the principal pretty well, because he had made so many trips to the principal's office," says Mr. Voth, who marvels at what a career advantage this turned out to be.

With Carman losing in a best-of-five playoff series two games to zero, the newly installed coach turned to Mr. Belfour, who, as Mr. Voth puts it, "stood on his head" in tying the series at two games apiece. Although Carman lost in overtime in the fifth and deciding game, "Ed-die, Ed-die" a chant that actually began at Carman was a superstar in the making.

From there, it was on to the University of North Dakota and the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he spent eight seasons and part of a ninth before being traded to the San Jose Sharks, with whom he spent an injury-riddled 13 games. In 1997, he signed as a free agent with the Stars, becoming a huge part of their trip to the Stanley Cup only one season later.

Low points

It was easily the high point of his life, which has known just as many downs as ups. At a young age, he lost several close relatives, including his grandfather, whose death he couldn't fathom as a boy of 6. His mother theorizes that it may have been his first real taste of anger.
His adult life has known other disappointments, off-ice as well as on.

Not long ago, he and his wife split up, and she and their two children live in Chicago. The three are yet another topic Mr. Belfour won't discuss, and trying to get him to do so is like hooking a certain big-mouth bass in Arkansas.

Nothing made him happier than winning the Cup, which he yearns to win again, just as much as plopping ol' Walter into a frying pan gets the fantasy juices going all over again.

"From the time you're 4 or 5 years old, growing up playing hockey in Canada, you dream about winning the Cup," says the newest member of Canada's Olympic team, which next month reports to Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"Hey, I played for the Cup every day when I was 4 or 5. You're watching Hockey Night in Canada and you're dreaming about it holding it, having it, winning it."

And the only thing better?

"Winning it a second time. And, of course, hooking that bass, which I swear I'll do," he says with a laugh, "if it's the last thing I do!"

Date and place of birth: April 21, 1965, in Carman, Manitoba, Canada
Occupation: Professional hockey player

Favorite movie: Braveheart

My ideal vacation: One that includes scuba diving and fishing

I drive a: Porsche Turbo

My hero is: Vladislav Tretiyak (internationally renowned goalie from Russia)

The best advice I could give a 20-year-old is: Get a college education

My favorite meal is: A big steak, homemade blueberry pie, and Hagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream

My worst habit is: Trying to cram too many hobbies and activities into my schedule

My best asset is: My work ethic

Behind my back, people say: Who knows?

Guest at my fantasy dinner party: My grandma Ruth

I wish I could sing like: Bono of U2

If I had a different job, I'd be: A professional race car driver

Favorite time of day: Sunset, when I'm on a boat

Favorite place outside Dallas: Switzerland

I'm happiest when: I'm with my family and friends, relaxing at the lake or working on my cars

I regret: As little as possible

Nobody knows I: Can draw ... and that I once won an art contest in college