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Ed Belfour, ‘flabbergasted’ 1st-ballot Hockey Hall of Famer

It's often said that goaltenders are a different breed of player, so it should come as no surprise that Ed Belfour was taking a nap before his beer league game when the Hockey Hall of Fame was trying to inform him of his impending immortality.

This should also not come as a surprise because he is, after all, Crazy Eddie.

"My brother-in-law came over to the house, knocked on the door and woke me up," was his recollection of the historic moment, as Belfour was announced with Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe and Joe Nieuwendyk as the Hall of Fame Class of 2011 on Tuesday afternoon.

Belfour competes on two men's league teams in the Dallas area — one of them named Rex's Seafood, the other with a temporary name — but doesn't play goal. He's a defensemen for his teams, which sounds a bit like Dave Grohl's decision to be singer/guitarist for the Foo Fighters rather than a drummer.

All of this differentiates Belfour from the rest of his Hall of Fame class. They're position players, he's a goaltender. Nieuwendyk is the GM of the Dallas Stars. Gilmour is the general manager of the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League. Mark Howe is Director of Pro Scouting for the Detroit Red Wings. Belfour is still in hockey, advising and supporting the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League where his son plays, but by no means does he have the shirt-and-tie gigs of the his classmates. He works on cars and plays in men's leagues.

But there's another significant difference between the four players. Nieuwendyk waited a year before his induction. Gilmour had been eligible since 2006. Mark Howe had waited for the call since 1998.

Ed Belfour is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

"I didn't expect it in any way. I feel like it was a real surprise," he said. "Obviously, a real honor. It's even more an honor to be picked right away. I was just flabbergasted."

Belfour has the goods for the Hall of Fame, stats-wise. He's third in the NHL in career wins (484), fourth in games played (963) and minutes (55,695). His save percentage (.906) and goals-against average (2.50) are top 30.

He won the Stanley Cup in 1999. He won the Calder in 1991. He was nominated for the Hart in 1991. He's got Vezina Trophies in 1991 and 1993 as the best goalie in the NHL, and four Jennings Trophies (91, 93, 95 and 99) for the fewest goals allowed by a goaltending tandem.

Oh, those tandems. Belfour was always a player never lacking in motivation, like being undrafted or being unceremoniously stashed in the minors for three seasons by the Chicago Blackhawks. Marty Turco(notes) pushed him in Dallas. Dominik Hasek(notes) pushed him in Chicago. Jeff Hackett(notes) pushed him out the door in Chicago, as Belfour was eventually traded to the San Jose Sharks in 1997.

"I still remember the day we had the conversation about leaving the team, and how emotional that was. It was at the time the worst day of my career, being traded," said Belfour.

After 13 games and 43 goals-against in San Jose, he signed as a free agent with the Dallas Stars and played there for five seasons, winning the Stanley Cup in 1999 and backstopping them to the Cup Final in 2000 before losing to the New Jersey Devils.

"For me, the most important thing was winning the Stanley Cup every year. You start that as a little boy, watching Hockey Night in Canada, the Original Six teams, and watching them win the Stanley Cup as a little kid," he said. "I always prepared myself during the regular season to peak in the playoffs."

That he did: His career playoff goals-against average was 2.17, better than Patrick Roy's (2.30).

"Eddie, I've said it before, he took his job really serious. He was one of the [best] big game goaltenders that I've ever been able to play with," said Nieuwendyk, his teammate in Dallas, with whom Belfour played in Toronto and Florida, his last two NHL stops.

But unlike his Hall of Fame classmates, Belfour had off-the-ice questions surrounding his candidacy. From the Toronto Sun:

In March of 2000, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour charge when he was tackled by police after a woman he was with became frightened by his intoxicated behaviour in a Dallas hotel. While under arrest and in the squad car, he allegedly told the officers he'd pay $1 billion US for his release without charges. He later apologized to the team and police and paid a $3,000 fine for resisting arrest.

Before joining the Leafs in '02, he was pulled from a Stars' road game in Vancouver and was so upset, he trashed the visitors room at GM Place, resulting in a hefty personal bill.

In April of 2007, Belfour and Florida Panthers' teammate Ville Peltonen(notes) were arrested outside a South Florida nightclub. Belfour was charged with disorderly intoxication and resisting an officer without violence, but was released the same day on a $1,500 bond.

Belfour was asked if he had any regrets during his career.

"I think there's always little things here and there that you wish you could have done differently. There are those things. But I'll keep them to myself," he said.

But those incidents are a part of who Eddie the Eagle was, as inseparable from his legacy as any postseason accolade or stat. He's a rough-around-the-edges goalie who wouldn't mind smacking you in the how-do-you-do if you crowded his crease. Ask Martin Lapointe:

How would Belfour like fans to remember him?

"I would like them to remember me as a competitive player," he said. "Remember me as one of the best goalies in the game."

Now, they'll remember him as a part of an elite group (goalies) within an elite group (Hall of Famers). One who went to sleep as a Hall of Fame hopeful and woke up on the first ballot.

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