January 15, 2016

Yves Belanger

Sometimes mimicking a great goaltender does not work out.

Take the case of Yves "Toots" Belanger back in 1978-79.

Belanger was a back-up goalie in the 1970s. The Baie-Comeau, Quebec native had emerged from the minor leagues to piece together a nice if sporadic resume with St. Louis and Atlanta. With the Flames he appeared to be the perfect co-worker for star goalie Dan Bouchard.

Belanger was never more excited for a NHL season than in 1978-79.

"I came to camp feeling better about this season than any other in my career," he said. "I knew this team could somewhere and I felt a part of it."

That would soon change. Bouchard and the Flames got off to an amazing start. The Flames started the year undefeated in their first twelve games - the best start in the history of the franchise and the third best start in NHL history at the time. Bouchard played all twelve games.

You could hardly blame coach Fred Creighton for not breaking up the winning formula. But it was not until November 14th that Creighton got the 26 year old Belanger into a game.

It was a disaster, to say the least.

The Washington Capitals - one of the league's weakest teams - scored on each of their first three shots. They scored five more and somehow hung on for an 8-7 victory.

A couple of weeks later Belanger surrendered six goals to start the game against the St. Louis Blues, and ended up losing 7-4.

So what went wrong? Belanger was so caught up in Bouchard's excellence that he somehow changed his game that had served him so well in the past.

"I had changed my whole style without even being aware of it," Belanger reflected. "I had watched Danny so much and seen him go undefeated that I picked up some of his style and it didn't work for me. I was really screwed up."

His confidence was completely shot. He was sent to the minors for a stint to try to regain his form. But far too often he just sat and watched his team play, and he went through the motions in practice.

"I couldn't get psyched up for anything. In the early part of the season and in training camp I worked harder than I ever had before. But as the season went on what was there to work for? What the hell was I going to do? Sit on the bench a different way or something?"

Belanger's season would get worse. He later would break his hand courtesy of a Ron Dugary zinger of a shot in a game against the New York Rangers.

Belanger surfaced in Boston for a few games the next season but was essentially done in the NHL. He would soon head to Canada's maritime provinces to continue to play in senior competition.

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