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Like Father, Like Son

Goaltending Bond Extends Beyond Game 

By Scott Burnside
Special to ESPN.com

SCARBOROUGH, Ontario -- Even before they could understand what each other said,
Ed Belfour and Vladislav Tretiak spoke the same language.

And even now, some 14 years later, theirs is a bond that relies more on a shared dedication to their craft than the ability to speak of it, a bond that now includes Belfour's teenage son, a boy who not surprisingly dreams of goaltending greatness himself.

It is a full month before the start of NHL training camp and the 38-year-old Belfour is on the ice working with Tretiak and 80 other goalies at the Russian legend's annual goaltending camp, goalies ranging in age from 8 to 48 and ranging in talent from former NHL rookie of the year Evgeni Nabokov to a female lawyer from New Orleans who's the practice goalie for Tulane University.

 

 

Belfour conducts himself as he has since meeting Tretiak as a wide-eyed, would-be No. 1 goalie with Chicago, obsessing over details, watching the puck land in his mitt or hit his blocker, sliding effortlessly from side to side on the wraparound drill.

But if Tretiak has helped Belfour both launch and preserve a career that included a renaissance in Toronto last season -- complete with a surprise Vezina Trophy nomination just when many were happy to write Belfour off -- this relationship is also about passing the torch, passing along knowledge from mentor to father to son.

"He's always been there for me," Belfour says of Tretiak during a break. "He's such a good person. His character and his personality traits carry over into all his goalies."

Now Tretiak's goalies include Belfour's 14-year-old son, Dayn. There is a pleasing sense of symmetry to the proceedings as Belfour tries to pass along not just the skills he learned from Tretiak but also the innate qualities he has gleaned along the way.

"I think you've got to be a good teacher (to be a good parent). I think I learned that from Vladislav," Belfour says.

It is a form of sentiment revealed by Belfour that runs contrary to the public perception of one of the finest goalies of all time, but one who is regularly portrayed as difficult to deal with and aloof.

"Eddie has been part of our family since the first days of his NHL career," says Anna Goruven, Tretiak's longtime agent and business partner, and in many ways the voice of the Russian great, having translated thoughts, ideas and drills to hundreds of goalies on behalf of Tretiak over the years. "I know Ed Belfour as a guy who cried his eyes out when he celebrated a surprise birthday party for Tretiak."

It was a year ago when Belfour surprised Goruven by approaching her about speaking at the celebration of Tretiak's 50th birthday in front of about 100 people.

"He spoke for about 40 minutes and he was crying his eyes out," she recalls.

On his web site, Belfour lists Tretiak as one of the most influential people in his life. Even now, Belfour becomes animated when recalling their first meeting.

Belfour had signed with Chicago as a free agent in June, 1987, and shuffled back and forth between the Blackhawks' farm team in Saginaw, Mich., and the big club. During the winter of 1989, Belfour was on loan to the Canadian national team, which was playing the Russian national team in a series of exhibition games in small arenas across Canada. A longtime admirer of Tretiak, Belfour was elated to discover the netminder who joined the Central Red Army team at the age of 17 and who electrified the hockey world with his play during the 1972 Summit Series was going to be attending one of the games.

"So I wanted to play my best because he was always one of my childhood heroes. I had an awesome game," says Belfour, who had the opportunity to shake Tretiak's hand afterward. "It was a big thrill."

Prior to the start of the 1990-91 NHL season, Tretiak was hired by Chicago to oversee a stable of young goaltenders that included Dominik Hasek, Jimmy Waite, Jacques Cloutier, Darren Pang and Greg Millen.

Tretiak didn't speak any English. Unable to describe the drills, he performed them himself while Goruven provided whatever verbal instruction was needed. (As an aside, coach Mike Keenan, after watching the nimble Tretiak, jokingly offered to sign him to a contract, Tretiak recalls with a laugh.)

At the end of each day's workout Belfour would ask Tretiak in an exaggerated Russian accent (as though that might help bridge the communication gap) who was going to be the starting goalie. It was too early to tell, Tretiak would try and explain.

"And Ed Belfour would say, 'Ed Belfour No. 1, Ed Belfour No. 1,'" Goruven recalls.

"He reminded Vladislav of himself when he was young because of the incredible drive he had and his desire to be No. 1," says Goruven, a native of the Ukraine who now represents 10 mostly Russian pro players from her adopted home in Toronto. "He was like a sponge."

In the 16 years since Tretiak held his first goaltending clinic in Vancouver, in part to help pay for a hip operation for former Russian national team icon Anatoli Tarasov, he has taught a who's who of elite netminders, including Martin Brodeur, Jocelyn Thibault, Jeff Hackett, Jose Theodore, Nabokov and even a 10-year-old Rick DiPietro.

He has a relationship with all of them, but none compares to the bond forged between he and Belfour, Tretiak says.

"I think he recognized hard work and determination," Belfour says. "I was fortunate to have that in my character."

Although Belfour would leave Chicago in the spring of 1997 -- first for San Jose, then Dallas, and now Toronto -- and Tretiak continues to work with young goaltenders there, distance has not diminished their relationship.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 1999, Belfour had a duplicate of his Cup ring made bearing both his name and that of his mentor.

"I took it as a show of respect for me and his recognition of the impact I had on his career," says Tretiak, who retired in 1984 after Russian hockey czars twice denied overtures by the Montreal Canadiens to have Tretiak play for them. "This is something I never had a chance to experience in my career. It made me feel a part of it."

 

"

Every time I come here it's pretty much a treasure. "

   

Dayn Belfour on participating in Vlasidlav Tretiak's goalie camp with his father

On the ice at the nondescript hockey facility north of Toronto, surrounded by sprawling industrial properties and faceless strip malls, Tretiak's camp is a world unto itself. Longtime NHLer Igor Korolev and the Maple Leafs' promising center Nik Antropov happily answer Tretiak's call to assist with the shooting drills. Nabokov and Anaheim prospect Ilja Bryzgalov work alongside goalies who still need a bedtime story.

"Every time I come here it's pretty much a treasure," says Dayn, who took up the position only two years ago but who will be moving to Toronto this fall with his sister and mother, Belfour's ex-wife, to play for a AAA bantam team. "I look up to him a lot."

"Vladislav is like family."

Since he was traded to San Jose in March 1997, Belfour relied on Dayn's mother for updates on his son's hockey progress. But after the Stars failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2002, he got his first look at the next generation of Belfour goaltending.

"I was like, wow, he's got talent. I didn't know how good he was," Belfour recalls. "I was impressed."

As a child, Dayn would don small goalie pads and take up the familiar stance in a makeshift net in the Belfour house. But his father admits he didn't push his son to follow his career path.

"Save him the heartache," he says with a grin.

Now the two work together breaking down games, going over technique and equipment, son looking to father for advice and father in turn relying on lessons learned from his own father figure, Tretiak.

During visits to Toronto last season, Dayn frequently participated in morning skate. Sporting his father's back-up equipment and a mask bearing the distinctive eagle motif, the younger Belfour bore a startling resemblance to his father.

Unlike his approach to the game -- obsessing over every minute detail, from the edge on his skates (he still likes to sharpen his own skates) to the webbing on his catching glove -- Belfour's challenge with his son is in letting things happen.

"He's like when I was a kid. I said I was going to play in the NHL. He doesn't know what's in between," says Belfour. "I don't limit any of his thoughts. I tell him anything's possible. I don't tell him anything about the numbers. In his mind he thinks he's going to make it. He thinks so. He believes it."

If there is pressure on a father not to want too much, not to exert too much pressure, there is likewise pressure on the son of a goaltender with a checkered past that includes a highly publicized arrest in Dallas and an AWOL in Boston to go along with a rookie of the year award, two Vezina Trophies and a Stanley Cup ring.

"The kids on my team, they always thought of me as my own person even though my dad's who he is," Dayn says. "And if my dad was just a regular guy, they'd still treat me the same way."

Dayn understands. His life is different than most of his friends and that it comes with different pressures, especially in Toronto where negative stories and criticism of his father is commonplace.

"I never really paid attention to it. I've just kind of stayed away from that," he says. "I'm learning and listening a lot to him. He's already been through all this."

"When he was little he made a lot of mistakes but he learned from them. And that's what he tells me."

There is quiet understanding between the two, a small joke of sorts. Dayn has insisted that his father not retire until Dayn is in the NHL, so the two can play together.

"It's his dream," says Belfour.

As for who gets the starting role when the two team up?

"I think there was something mentioned in there about me being the back-up," says Belfour, smiling as he carries his son's equipment to the parking lot.

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