TORONTO -- It didn't take long for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare of the Philadelphia Flyers to realize the difference between playing in the NHL and playing in Europe.
“You see that there is less time with the puck, and as soon as you get the puck you’ve got to find a play quick,” he said after the Flyers’ preseason game at Air Canada Centre Tuesday. “If you get the puck and are not aware where your linemates are then it’s hard to make a play.”
The 29-year old Bellemare, who was born in Paris, signed with the Flyers in June. As of Friday, he remains on their roster after cuts brought the number of players left in camp to 34. Should he make the team, he’d join a short, but growing list of French players to play in the NHL.
How did Bellemare get introduced to hockey as a kid growing up in Paris? Thank his younger sister, Rose-Eliandre Bellemare, a member of France’s 2008 Olympic artistic gymnast team.
“My big sister wanted to try hockey, and from there my big brother and I decided that we [would] like to try skating on the rink,” he said. “There was a guy that was a coach in both figure skating and hockey that told my mom that it would be a wise thing to do to put me through hockey.
“We grew up changing from team to team just because my mom thought that level was not high enough; so we just switched teams because of that. When I was 16, I moved from a team in Paris to a team in Rouen, which is in the north of France, which was the best team. From there it’s been more professional [teams], which is not the level that it is here, but it’s a start. You can only try to learn as much as you can from where you were playing. That’s what I did, not everything in France, but I learned until I thought it was a good idea to leave.”
Bellemare first joined Sweden’s Leksands in 2006 and spent three seasons there before leaving for Skelleftea. Internationally, he’s represented France at various levels from the Divison I and II World Junior Championships to Olympic qualifying to the Worlds.
Over that time, the sport of hockey has grown Bellemare’s native country. After consistently finishing in the high teens at the Worlds, the French have found themselves in the top 10 in two of the last three tournaments, including last spring, where they stunned Canada 3-2 in the opening game.
Soccer is still king in France, Bellemare knows that, but hockey player development is slowly improving. “Our goal is to not take the spotlight off football, our goal is to become a good hockey nation,” he said. “We’re fighting hard every year.”
Cristobal Huet's name may not have the same cache as Zlatan Ibrahimovic's in sporting circles over there, but he, along with Antoine Roussel of the Dallas Stars, are hockey heroes to Bellemare and others.
“In the hockey world, they are definitely the example to follow.”
Bellemare said there was some NHL interest two years ago, but things didn’t work out. This summer, he chose Philadelphia over the Montreal Canadiens, despite his French upbringing, because he liked the physical style of the Flyers.
Hoping his hockey journey in North America ends with a spot on the Flyers’ roster out of camp, Bellemare sees his successes over here doing what Huet’s and Roussel’s did for the sport in their native country.
“Hopefully if I make the team there will be sort of the same thing where I grew up in France, playing in France until I was 21, then left,” he said.
“And still, even if it’s late (at age 29), right now I’ve got a shot at making the team with the Flyers, which is not something that you can just throw away. "
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