ALSO ON SLAM!
Monday, May 11, 1998
Little goaltender plays bigSPOKANE, Wash. (CP) -- Six inches. Ten pounds.
That's the difference between being a first-round NHL draft pick and a 20-year-old playing his last season of junior hockey and hoping someone will take a chance on him.
When Portland Winter Hawks goaltender Brent Belecki takes the ice tonight (10:30 p.m. EDT, TSN), he'll look 180 feet down the rink and see Roberto Luongo in the Val d'Or Foreurs net.
Belecki and Luongo have established themselves as the two best goaltenders at this year's Memorial Cup.
Luongo faced 54 shots and kept the game close as Val d'Or lost 5-4 to Spokane on Saturday night. Belecki made 40 saves in Portland's 6-2 win over Guelph on Sunday afternoon.
At six foot three and 185 pounds, Luongo, 19, is what the NHL likes. He's big and mobile. The New York Islanders chose him fourth overall in the 1997 entry draft, the earliest pick for a goalie in NHL history.
Belecki, 5-9, 175 lbs., isn't drafted. He'll tell you he has nothing to prove against Luongo. Then he pauses.
"If there is a highly touted, highly ranked goalie at the other end I like to make a statement personally," the Calgary native said finally.
Belecki has been making a statement ever since arriving in Portland in 1994. He was named the WHL's best goaltender this year and chosen the most valuable player in the playoffs following Portland's sweep of Brandon.
He missed 22 games in 1996 after a skate cut his thumb and then recorded a shutout in his first game back.
In 149 career games he has a 79-53-9 record and a 3.26 goals-against average.
Talk to NHL scouts and they all say the same thing.
"He's a very good goalie," said Brad Robson of the Dallas Stars. "He's quick, he's smart and he has character. The only real knock against him is his size."
Mention Luongo and Robson's eyes light up.
"There's the difference," he said, noting Luongo's size.
"He intimidates you."
It's nothing Belecki hasn't heard before.
"I've heard that all my life," he said with a hint of frustration. "I've heard that criticism for a long time. You can't worry about that. You just have to give your team a chance to win. What happens in the future happens."
Belecki has gone to the Stars camp the last two summers. Robson said Dallas likes Belecki's talent and character but the Stars first priority will be to sign Marty Turcco, the goaltender they've drafted out of Michigan.
Belecki figures if Dallas doesn't want him someone else will. Winning a Memorial Cup would go a long ways towards convincing a team to look at his skills, not his size.
"There's a lot of scouts in the stands. Everyone knows that," Belecki said. "You can't worry about that. You have to focus on the game at hand. There's been a lot of interest, yet still everyone thinks I'm a little too small.
"If someone takes a chance on me that would be great."