Ed Belfour  
 


It's hard to shake a nickname, especially one like “Crazy Eddie.” Ask Eddie Belfour of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He may be unorthodox, high-strung and totally unpredictable, but no goalie has ever played the position with as much fire, fury and athleticism. Supremely confident and talented, Eddie may go down as one of the strangest players of his time. But he'll also go out a winner. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Edward Belfour has been competing ever since his parents, Henry and Alma, welcomed him into the world on April 21, 1965. He grew up in Carman, Manitoba, a town of 3,000 located about 30 miles north of North Dakota. The Belfours lived in a house which Henry and Alma built themselves on the north side of town. Eddie shared a bedroom with his younger sister, Patricia.

In a place where winter temperatures regularly dipped below zero, cold-weather sports dominated the landscape. Eddie's father bought him his first pair of skates when he was five. In no time, he was a regular at the Boyne River, where neighborhood kids gathered for pick-up games of hockey. The contests always pitted Carman's North-enders against the South-enders, each team more than ready to prove it was tougher than the other.

Even at that young age, Eddie had the reputation among friends and family as a demanding competitor who hated to lose. On family fishing trips, he stayed on the water until he reeled in the biggest catch of the day. Once during a hockey game, he injured his tailbone so severely that he could not move for a good 15 minutes. Eddie refused to leave the ice, so the other boys simply played around him. And he still remembers losses from his childhood as if they occurred last week.


 
 

Eddie liked to be the center of attention. In elementary school, he entertained classmates with animal sounds. To stop him from distracting class, a teacher suggested he take up drawing and handed him a hockey card of Chicago Blackhawks goalie Tony Esposito to sketch. He found that art focused his energy and relaxed him. Soon, Espo's pictures hung all around the classroom. Eddie remains interested in art to this day.

By the third grade hockey had become an all-consuming passion. A self-described rink rat, Eddie played whenever he could, both in leagues and with friends. He usually lined up as a center so he could shoot as often as possible. He also got whistled for plenty of penalties. Although Eddie had great intensity, he was not big or fast or strong enough to become a top forward. Eventually, he found his way into the goal. He liked all the equipment and the rituals involved in the position.

By his 12th birthday, Eddie was a full-time goaltender. No one in Carman had an inkling that he was NHL material, however. After enrolling at Carman Collegiate High School, Eddie tried out for the varsity hockey team—one of three goalies competing for two spots. When cutdown day came, he was the odd man out. Devastated, he quit hockey and started playing basketball, but his heart wasn't in it.

Eddie began to develop an interest in cars around this limbo period in his sports life. He was fascinated with everything on wheels, from stock cars to bicycles. Later he got hooked on drag racing, and in fact plans to compete on the circuit after his NHL career is over.

Heading into his junior year, Eddie turned his attention back to the hockey rink. The 16-year-old made the varsity as a backup, but saw plenty of ice time with the JV. Carman qualified for the Zone 4 playoffs that year (the equivalent of a state tournament in the U.S.) and advanced to the finals against the Winkler Zodiacs. Coach Frank McKinnon searched for a spark against his heavily favored foe. He found it in Eddie. With Carman down 2-0 in the best-of-five finals, McKinnon turned to his junior netminder. Belfour came up big and kept the Zodiacs from sweeping. He won the next contest, too, forcing a Game 5 showdown. Winkler finally broke through in overtime to win the series, but Eddie was now the most celebrated goalie in the region.

Eddie nailed down the number-one job his senior year under a new coach, Ernie Sutherland, who worked with him on his technique. Eddie was physically gifted, but allowed his emotions to get the better of him at times. Learning the nuances of the game kept him from making impulsive mistakes, and soon he became the rock of a very talented team. Eddie and his teammates played throughout the 1982-83 campaign like they were on a mission. They steamrolled through the regular season and then cruised through the playoffs for the Zone 4 title.

Eddie was ready to embark on the next leg of what he hoped would be a long hockey career. To his astonishment, not a single college scholarship came his way, and no pro team drafted him. The cocky teenager had to swallow hard and think about his next move. He worked on cars for a while to earn spending money, then finally latched on with the Winkler Flyers, a Tier II team in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Eddie joined the Flyers as a back-up goalie in 1984. After a couple weeks, the frustrated teenager demanded that he start. When he finally got the opportunity, he never left. He became a First-Team All-Star, and earned honors as the MJHL's top netminder. His old coach, Ernie Sutherland, asked John Ferguson of the Winnipeg Jets to give Eddie a tryout. Ferguson declined, saying the Jets had plenty of goalies in their system. So Eddie went south of the border and enrolled at the University of North Dakota.


Tony Esposito,
1970 The Sporting News

 
 

The UND staff knew Eddie well. Over the years he had scrimmaged with the Fighting Sioux on many occasions. Now 21 (too old to play in the juniors) he tried to make the team as a walk-on. Coach John Marks, a former All-Star with the Chicago Blackhawks, told Eddie he would begin the year no better than third string. But in tryouts he blew the other goalies away and won the top job.

Eddie played one spectacular season for UND. In 34 games, he won 29 times with a 2.34 goals-against average. Named to the First Team of the Western College Hockey Association's All-Star squad, he led the Fighting Sioux into the NCAA Division I tournament. Eddie flourished under the pressure of the school's title chase and led UND to the 1987 national championship.

Eddie was now being courted by a handful of NHL clubs. A free agent, he could take the best deal to come his way. The Chicago Blackhawks had the inside track, thanks to scout Jim Pappin, whose son—a UND student—kept raving about Eddie. At first Pappin was turned off by Eddie's acrobatics. But eventually he came to appreciate the supreme skill with which he played the position. Pappin asked head scout Jack Davison to watch Belfour in Detroit during the last weekend of the NCAA tournament. Davison had misgivings about the goalie, too. But when they talked to coach Marks about him, they got a glowing report. In the summer of 1987, the Hawks offered Eddie a good contract and he signed on the dotted line.

Eddie spent his first pro season in the minors with the Saginaw Hawks of the International Hockey League. While not always technically sound, he impressed the club with his unmatched conditioning and fearsome intensity. Eddie appeared in 61 games, logging a league-leading 3,446 minutes. He won 32 times, posted a 3.10 goals-against average, was voted to the First Team IHL All-Star squad and shared the Garry F. Longman Memorial Trophy with John Cullen as the league's best rookie. Though his numbers fell off a bit in the playoffs, Eddie proved to the Blackhawks that he deserved a shot at the NHL.

The following year, 1988-89, Eddie bounced back and forth between Saginaw and Chicago. He made his NHL debut on October 18 against Detroit. A goal in OT beat him, 4-3. Two months later, Eddie exacted his revenge against the Red Wings, getting his first NHL victory in a 7-2 cakewalk. On the year, he appeared in 23 games for Chicago, winning just four against 12 losses and three ties.

ON THE RISE

In the fall of 1989, Eddie made a big decision. Instead of vying with Greg Millen and Jacques Cloutier for playing time in Chicago, he joined the Canadian national team. He embarked on a 33-game world tour that lasted nearly six months. Eddie sharpened his skills against some of the top players on the planet, performing before hostile crowds almost every night.

Eddie returned just in time to join Chicago for the playoffs. Coach Mike Keenan was not a man to stick with one goalie, so it came as no surprise when he tapped Eddie on the shoulder and told him he would be starting Game 2 of the Blackhawks series with the Minnesota North Stars. Though Chicago lost 6-5, Eddie showed enough to earn several more post-season starts. The Hawks defeated the Stars in seven games, then won another seven-game series against the Blues. They almost defeated the powerhouse Oilers in the semifinals, before falling four games to two. Eddie played in nine more games, turning in a nifty 2.49 goals-against average.

In camp the following fall, Keenan threw the goalie job wide open. No fewer than seven netminders showed up, including a young Czech named Dominik Hasek, whose style was even weirder than Eddie's. Many in the organization were rooting for Jimmy Waite, who had been groomed for the starting job. But it was Eddie who outshone them all. He was Keenan's kind of guy, a survivor, a player who would do anything to win.


John Marks, 1978 Topps
 
 

With Eddie between the pipes, the Blackhawks got the 1990-91 campaign off to a sizzling start. The team's best four offensive players—Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Steve Thomas and Michel Goulet—were flying all over the ice. Grinders such as Adam Creighton, Dirk Graham and Troy Murray did the dirty work in the corners. Chicago's top quartet of defensemen—Chris Chelios, Doug Wilson, Dave Manson and Trent Yawney—liked playing in front of Chicago's feisty rookie, even if they didn't always see eye to eye. Eddie actually got into a fight with Manson during practice, and the two had to be pried apart as they wrestled on the ice.

Eddie was also known to butt heads with Keenan, who relished the opportunity to challenge his first-year goalie. On December 9 in Philadelphia, with Chicago trailing the Flyers 3-1 midway through the first, the coach yanked Eddie. Enraged, he skated to the bench, oblivious to his coach's attempt to explain the move. Keenan finally grabbed Eddie by the sleeve and screamed in his face. Less than a minute later, Eddie was back in net.

By January 1, Chicago stood among the best teams in the NHL, and people in town were talking about something other than Michael Jordan. The Hawks were actually having fun—a rarity for players coached by Keenan.

Eddie, starting almost every game, was on pace to break Tony Esposito's team-record 38 wins, and was a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as the league's rookie of the year. Eddie's success mystified many in the NHL, especially given the amount of time he spent sprawled on the ice. Coaches begged their players to shoot high when Eddie dropped into his butterfly position, but he always seemed to deflect these attempts just past the net. Some scouts predicted that he would run out of gas late in the year, but they did not appreciate Eddie's remarkable fitness.

The Blackhawks finished with 106 points and the NHL's best record. It was Chicago's best regular-season finish in 19 years. Eddie starred throughout, leading the league in games (74), wins (43), minutes (4,217) and goals against (2.47). His victory total obliterated the franchise record and fell just one win short of Terry Sawchuk's rookie mark, set in 1950-51.

Going into the playoffs, the Blackhawks had the highest of hopes. To a man, they felt they had the talent to advance to the Stanley Cup finals. Still, their first-round opponent, the Minnesota North Stars, concerned them. Though the North Stars had squeaked into the post-season, finishing 38 points behind Chicago, they had improved steadily—especially in their own end of the ice—under the guidance of coach Bob Gainey. Chicago felt Eddie was its ace in the hole.

To Keenan's dismay, his players got sloppier with each contest. This lack of discipline resulted in costly penalties against the Hawks and scoring chances for the Stars. With the series knotted at two games apiece, Minnesota surged to victory in Games 5 and 6 to bounce Chicago out of the playoffs. It was the first time that had happened to the NHL's best regular-season team in 20 years. The numbers told the story—the Hawks took an appalling 278 minutes in penalties, allowing Minnesota to score 23 power-play goals. Eddie was under siege, but he was not as sharp as he should have been. The swarm of players in front of his net affected him more than usual. Perhaps it was the pressure, or all the minutes he'd piled up. Whatever the reason, the Stars were able to shoot high and score on Eddie when so many others had failed.

Eddie worked on his growing car collection over the summer, taking time out to attend the NHL awards banquet in Toronto. There he walked off with a rare triple—the Calder Trophy, Vezina Trophy and Jennings Trophy. The rest of the break was spent haggling with the Hawks over a new contract. His agent, Ron Salcer, demanded a significant pay raise. Keenan, who doubled as GM, balked. When training camp started, the two sides were still far apart. Eddie stayed at home, holding out 19 games into the season.

Eventually, Chicago gave him a two-year deal worth close to two million dollars. Though he stayed in shape, it wasn't until after Christmas that he returned to peak form. By then the Detroit Red Wings were too far in front. A frustrated Keenan vacillated from praising Eddie to tearing him down. The goalie responded by hitting his stride in the spring, and the Blackhawks were rolling when the playoffs began.

Keenan had assembled a roster of tough, no-nonsense players for the post-season, and this paid off in the opening round when Chicago bounced back from two losses against the Blues to win the series. Against the first-place Red Wings, Eddie was spectacular, stopping the Detroit shooters again and again. He allowed just four goals in the series, which Chicago swept 4-0. Against the defending champion Oilers, Eddie was great again. He allowed eight goals while his teammates netted 21. For the first time since 1973, the Chicago Blackhawks were in the Stanley Cup Finals.

With Eddie riding an 11-game playoff winning streak (smashing the old mark held by Gerry Cheevers), the Blackhawks were feeling invincible. Keenan, however, cautioned his players not to be overconfident. Their opponents, the long-suffering Pittsburgh Penguins, had also been custom-built for the playoffs. They had the most potent scorer in hockey, Mario Lemieux, and a goalie, Tom Barrasso, who was almost as hot as Eddie.

Keenan's warning proved prophetic. The Blackhawks opened a 4-1 lead in Game 1, but the Pens stormed back to even the score. With 13 seconds left, Lemieux broke loose and slammed the puck past Eddie for the win. The big center was fueled by Keenan's pre-series insults. He had claimed Lemieux was soft, and that he scored his goals when they didn't matter. Now he would have to eat those words. Super Mario reached a new level in the 1992 finals, as he led his team to a four-game sweep. The Hawks never had the lead again.

Despite the loss, Eddie's reputation around the league had grown immeasurably. In the first three series, he had been exceptional. His critics were beginning to believe he could become a big-time winner no matter how much time he spent scrambling around on his hands and knees.

Chicago fans did not agree. When he was pulled off the ice in Game 4, he was booed lustily by the home crowd at Chicago Stadium. As far as they were concerned, Crazy Eddie did not have what it takes to perform under pressure.

Darryl Sutter disagreed. And that counted for something in Chicago, because he became the Blackhawks' new coach after Keenan decided to concentrate solely on his front-office duties in 1992-93. Eddie was back in the nets, and he won back most of the fans with his high-intensity scrambling and competitive fire. He finished the year with 41 victories and led the NHL in appearances (71) and shutouts (7). His goals-against of 2.59 was second the NHL's second-best mark and his save percentage (.906) third-best.


Eddie Belfour, 1990 Upper Deck
 
 

The Hawks notched 106 points during the regular season, but Sutter's soft touch did not play well come playoff time. When the pesky Blues won the first two on Chicago's ice, Sutter could not rally his men and they went down in four. The final game, tied 3-3 in overtime, ended on a freak play. Craig Janney collected a clearing pass that had skipped over the stick of Chris Chelios. The St. Louis forward looked up and was astonished to see an empty net. Brett Hull, in an attempt to sidestep a Chicago player, hit Eddie like a freight train, sending him flying across the ice. Janney coolly shot the puck into the net to end the series.

Eddie went berserk when the officials ruled the goal was good. He smashed his stick on the crossbar and flung it at referee Ron Shick, who had blown the call. In the locker room, Eddie destroyed a fan, a coffee maker and two water coolers. When he calmed down enough to answer questions from the media, he derided the referees, saying that the officiating was a joke.

Eddie maintained his foul mood through the summer. Despite collecting a second Vezina Trophy, he felt that he was owed a little more respect—especially by the Blackhawks, who were concentrating their team-building efforts on offense and ignoring some holes on defense.

Once the season started, it was clear the team would not be as competitive. Eddie was left off the All-Star roster, and responded by posting three consecutive shutouts. It helped him lead the league in this category, but it was small consolation for a 39-36-9 campaign (Eddie won 37 of those games) that offered little promise for post-season success. The Toronto Maple Leafs beat Chicago in six games in the opening round of the playoffs. Eddie allowed only 15 goals in the series, but the Blackhawks failed to muster much offense—the same problem that plagued them throughout the year. Three of the four losses to the Leafs were by scores of 1-0.

The highlight of the 1994-95 season, which was reduced to a mere 48 games because of labor problems, was the opening of the team's new home, the United Center. Once the schedule started, the Hawks looked pretty good. They were scoring goals and playing with enthusiasm. But a late-season 13-game winless streak threw the team for a loop, and despite a 5-0-1 record to finish the year, there was not much confidence in the clubhouse when the playoffs began. Although Eddie had another spectacular season with a league-best 2.28 goals-against average, Chicago's best scorer, Jeremy Roenick, was out with a bad knee.

Eddie was solid in the net during a tightly played opening-round series against the Maple Leafs. After dropping the first two games at home, the Hawks rallied to win three straight, with Eddie allowing a total of just three goals. Toronto won Game 6 in overtime, but the Hawks took care of business on their home ice in Game 7 to advance.

From there, Eddie took over. Against a fast-improving Vancouver club, Eddie got into a classic battle of the goalies with Kirk McLean, whose standup style made for a marvelous contrast. The first game went to Chicago 2-1 in overtime, and Eddie scored a 2-0 shutout in the second. Games 3 and 4 also went into overtime, with Eddie stonewalling the Canucks for 3-2 and 4-3 victories on enemy ice.

The Western Conference finals matched the Blackhawks against the favored Red Wings. The teams split the first two contests and the pivotal third game went to Detroit on a fluky goal by Vladimir Konstantinov in double-overtime. The soft shot from the blue line should have been easy to handle, but it dipped sharply as Eddie moved to glove it. As soon as it crossed the goal line, he flopped to the ice and buried his head in his catcher. After changing, he had to be escorted by security to a waiting limo for fear of retribution by angry Chicago fans. Although his teammates defended his play, they ran out of steam after that. Eddie did his best to stop the onslaught, and pushed two more games into overtime, but Detroit prevailed in each and won the series four games to one.


Brett Hull, 1991 Upper Deck
 
 

The 1995-96 season brought a new coach, Craig Hartsburg, but little else changed. Eddie hurt his back while lifting weights during the year, and attempted to play through the pain. He wasn't his usual sharp self, and Hartsburg began using backup goalie Jeff Hackett more frequently. This irritated Eddie, though not as much as the Chicago writers, who intimated that he was jaking it. With Roenick leading a growing chorus of complaints about the team's cheapness, the scribes assumed this was Eddie's way of expressing his displeasure.

Eddie pointed out that he had played injury-free hockey for Chicago for eight years, and now that he was trying to push himself through the pain, he was accused of not giving 100 percent. He was deeply offended, and let everyone know it. He finished the year with 22 wins in 50 games, but only one shutout.

The Blackhawks drew the Calgary Flames in the opening round of the playoffs and recorded an impressive sweep. Eddie was sharp, with a shutout in Game 2 and a 2-1 overtime win to close out the series. Chicago ran into a buzzsaw in the next round, however. The Colorado Avalanche, with Patrick Roy in goal, squeezed by the Hawks in six extremely close games.

Despite the fact that the Avs went on to win the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks' ownership acted as if they'd lost to a Pee Wee team. A serious of drastic moves followed, most with the goal of cutting payroll. They began the 1996-97 with a shadow of the previous year's club; the top remaining scorers, in fact, were both defensemen—Chelios and gary Suter. At 31, Eddie had no interest in waiting out a rebuilding program. His contract was up at season's end and, as much as he liked Chicago, he knew it was time to move on.

The Blackhawks had no intention of paying Eddie the $4 million-plus he stood to make on the open market, so when the San Jose Sharks came calling in late January, a deal was struck that sent Eddie west. He was glad to leave town. A feud with Hackett had been developing and he was certain it was just going to get uglier.

Eddie's half-season with the Sharks was no walk in the park, either. The previous year's back injury flared up, limiting him to just a dozen games with San Jose. When the season ended, the Sharks offered Eddie about a million a year less that he was worth, so he waited for an offer from another club.

MAKING HIS MARK

The Dallas Stars, late of Minnesota, were in the market for a big-time goalie. They had just come off a great season, followed by a disappointing first-round exit in the playoffs. GM Bob Gainey's top priority was to replace Andy Moog in goal, and owner Tom Hicks gave him $10 million to spend. Gainey signed Eddie to a three-year deal. It was less than he had hoped for, but realized that the back injury had reduced his market value. Besides, Dallas was a club that had a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup.

Team captain Derian Hatcher was thrilled to get Eddie. It was a signal to the players that the owner was willing to open his wallet to put the final pieces in place. Eddie joined a team that featured solid defenders in Hatcher, Craig Ludwig, Richard Matvichuk, Darryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov. Mike Modano spearheaded an improving offense that included Joe Nieuwendyk, Pat Verbeek, Todd Harvey and Jamie Langenbrunner.

Eddie's first few weeks with the Stars were awkward. He had a reputation around the league as a touchy guy, and he was given plenty of space. But as coach Ken Hitchcock and the others got to know Eddie, they got to like him. How could they not appreciate a goalie who was so obsessed with winning?

Eddie and his new coach had to have several strategy chats before the season opened. The Stars played a different defensive scheme than the Hawks, one where the defensemen stuck closer to their men and tried to block shots. Hitchcock also told Eddie that he didn't like his goalies handling the puck too much—something Eddie had become quite fond of. In the end, each man gave a little and ironed out their philosophical differences.

The new surroundings suited Eddie, who was untouchable in the early going. By early December he already had a team-record seven shutouts. The rest of the Stars lived up to their name, blowing through the regular season with 49 wins and a league-high 109 points. Eddie set a franchise record with 37 wins and led the NHL with 1.88 goals-against average.

Dallas entered the playoffs as the team to beat. To reach the finals, however, they would need to unseat the defending champion Red Wings. The odds of this diminished when Nieuwendyk went down with a knee injury against the Sharks in the first round. Although Dallas survived this series and beat Edmonton in the next round, the Stars were no match for the Red Wings, who beat them four games to two. In that series, Eddie got into trouble for slashing Detroit's Martin LaPointe.

During the off-season, Eddie saw therapists for his back almost every day. He also stopped playing golf. By the time camp opened, the back felt better than ever. GM Gainey also was busy. Looking to add some scoring punch, he signed veteran sharpshooter Brett Hull, master of the one-timer. He teamed with Modano to make the first line one of the league's most dangerous. This allowed Nieuwendyk to center the second line, which had a positive ripple effect right down the roster. Suddenly an offense that seemed a couple of guys short ranked among the most balanced in hockey.

The Stars opened the season fast, as they had the previous year. By the All-Star break, they led the NHL in points. Eddie was playing with more focus and had an eerie sense of calm at times—like he knew what was going to happen before it did. He didn't even mind when backup Roman Turek got some key starts down the stretch. Eddie was getting older, and he knew it was for the best.

That kind of team spirit was something new for Eddie. In the past, his typical reaction to change was to resist it. Now he was taking a step back, evaluating things from a big-picture perspective, and taking things less personally. He was actually enjoying the idea of being part of a group.


Eddie Belfour, 1996 The Hockey News
 
 

Dallas finished the year with 114 points. They seemed invincible heading into the playoffs. Insiders agreed that the only X-factor that might work against them was “Crazy Eddie.” It was common knowledge that when things got crowded in front of his net and the trash-talking started, Eddie could be thrown off his game. Could he keep it together for the entire Stanley Cup run, or would something go haywire along the way?

A sweep of the Oilers in the first round set the tone for the post-season, as Eddie yielded seven goals in the four games. He was solid against the St. Louis Blues in round two, stopping them in six games—four of which were decided in overtime. Next came a street fight with Colorado. The series went the full seven, and the Stars' big defensemen made the difference, keeping enemy skaters away from Eddie and stopping Joe Sakic and company whenever they got on a roll. After the series, the Avs tipped their hats to the winners—Dallas, they claimed, was the class of the league, and Eddie was their best player.

That left the Buffalo Sabres and Eddie's old backup, Dominik Hasek, as the final hurdle on the way to the Stanley Cup. The Stars had a slight edge in overall talent, but the Sabres had displayed a special killer instinct in the post-season. Given that both teams had super goalies, leads would be especially precious. This was underscored in the opener, when Dallas blew a 1-0 margin in the third period, then lost in overtime.

In Game 2, the Stars threw their weight around early. Even the mild-mannered Nieuwendyk got into the action, dropping his gloves with Brian Holzinger. When Brian Skrudland took a run at Hasek, who had ventured into the corner after a loose puck, the Sabres told Eddie that he would be next. It turned out that Modano was their target, and a vicious check resulted in a broken bone in the superstar's wrist. This immediately changed the complexion of the game and the series. But then the impossible happened when Stars' defenseman Craig Ludwig—scoreless in 102 playoff games dating back to 1988—netted a huge goal. Hull added a pair of goals for a 4-2 win that knotted the series.

With Modano playing hurt and Hull straining his groin early in Game 3, the Stars collapsed into a defensive shell and waited for the Sabres to make a mistake. Unable to get decent shots off, Buffalo panicked and Nieuwendyk converted their miscues into a pair of goals for a 2-1 win. The Sabres bounced back in Game 4 to tie the series again, and the two teams went back to Dallas. Modano played magnificently, setting up two goals, and Eddie was perfect in net as the Stars regained the series lead with a 2-0 shutout.


Eddie Belfour, 1999 SI for Kids
 
 

Game 6 was one for the books. Eddie and Dominik made every kind of save imaginable and the contest went into overtime at 1-1. The acrobatics continued for two scoreless periods, as the most unorthodox goalies in the game continued to put on a clinic. With time running out in the third overtime, Hull whacked a loose puck past Hasek to win the Stanley Cup. Though Nieuwendyk was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the best player in the post-season, Eddie was hands-down the most valuable player in the finals.

His demons released, Eddie was like a little kid after the game. He had won the big one, and the more he thought about it the giddier he got. On the plane ride back from Buffalo, he hugged the Stanley Cup like a teddy bear and paraded it up and down the aisle, getting his teammates to kiss it and drink from it. When the plane landed, Eddie brought the cup out, and raised it over his head as hundreds of fans cheered.

That summer, Eddie got to bring the Stanley Cup back home to Carman. He let the people he'd grown up with take their picture with it, then hosted a banquet, during which he spoke for 30 minutes about what the cup meant to him. The next day he drove the trophy to the University of North Dakota for the opening ceremony of the school's new hockey arena. Then he flew to Chicago to party before passing the Stanley Cup along to another teammate.

During the off-season, the Stars traded Turek, meaning Manny Fernandez would now be Eddie's backup. The team's main goal for 1999-00 (besides defending their championship) was to work in some of the younger players that had been percolating up from Gainey's farm system. The idea was to give them experience, while spelling the veterans. Dallas had a very good team, but the Stars were getting a bit long in the tooth.

The Dallas plan encountered several problems, and the team struggled to find itself. The one thing Hitchcock could count on was a great game from Eddie. He was having a wonderful year until a bizarre incident occurred in early March. According to the police account, Eddie got into a fight with a security guard at a Dallas area hotel. When officers responded, they sprayed Eddie, who they said was drunk, with mace. It took four cops to handcuff him and get him into a cruiser. On the way to the station, he kicked and spit, then begged to be set free, offering a billion dollar bribe. The team made the incident go away, suspended the goalie for five games, then swept the whole thing under the carpet.

The Stars went into the playoffs with Eddie back in form and Modano playing exceptional hockey. They looked fit to defend their title, having added forwards Kirk Muller and Scott Thornton and defensemen Sylvain Cote and Dave Manson. Dallas obliterated the Oilers and Sharks in the opening rounds, then survived another war with the Avalanche to reach the finals.

There they met the New Jersey Devils, a team built for this type of series. Eddie's counterpart, Martin Brodeur, was razor-sharp, and the Devils had two superb lines to throw at the Dallas defense. Veteran defenseman Scott Stephens, playing with a sore shoulder, seemed unaffected by the injury and was throwing his weight around like a 25-year-old.

Things started badly for Dallas, as the Devils split the defense for three goals in the second period of Game 1 on the way to a convincing 7-3 win. It was Eddie's worst game ever. He bounced back to stymie New Jersey in Game 2, a thrilling 2-1 victory for the Stars.

Eddie was good in Games 3 and 4 in Dallas, but Brodeur was a little better, as the Devils scored a pair of 2-1 wins to seize control of the series. Eddie played the game of his life back at the Meadowlands, making storybook saves through three periods and two overtimes. Brodeur was brilliant again, but the Stars won on a beautiful deflection by Modano off a Hull shot. It was the longest scoreless game in Stanley Cup history. Eddie ended the night with a mind-boggling 48 saves.

Game 6 went into overtime, too. But this time Eddie found himself staring down the barrel of a perfect shot. Jason Arnott collected a loose puck near the goal and snapped a wrist shot into the only opening Eddie gave him. The Devils had defied the odds and snatched the Stanley Cup from the Stars' grasp.

Despite the crushing loss to New Jersey, Eddie came out of the off-season raring to go in 2000-01. The Stars had a strong team again, led by scorers Modano and Hull and defensive stars Hatcher and Zubov. Eddie had a nice year, with a slightly elevated 2.34 goals-against average. He recorded 35 wins, eight of which were shutouts. It probably didn't hurt to have rookie Marty Turco behind him. The kid pushed Eddie all season, allowing less than two goals per game to lead the NHL.

The Stars finished the year with 106 points, good for first place in the Pacific Division. They disposed of the Oilers in the opening round of the playoffs, but then fell to the red-hot Blues in an embarrassing four-game sweep.

When goalies pass 35, it is not unusual for them to have a poor season. Most fade off into backup roles or retirement, but the great ones suck it up, make the necessary adjustments, and rediscover their mojo. Eddie's 2001-02 campaign was, by any measure, a miserable one. The 36-year-old locked horns with his coaches and heard it from the cheap seats as the Stars missed the playoffs for the first time since he got to Dallas.

The organization underwent major change as the season progressed. The braintrust of Hitchcock, Gainey and Jim Lites left, Nieuwendyk and Hull were dealt away, and scorers like Pierre Turgeon and Verbeek could not put the puck in the net. Eddie's numbers were lackluster. He lost a career-high 27 times and his save average dipped below 90 percent. His unorthodox style no longer thrilled Dallas fans, it just irritated them. They also hadn't forgotten about the St. Louis sweep.

With Turco ready to take over the number-one job for the Stars, Eddie knew he would soon be run out of town. During a post-season interview he let the club have it, saying that the Stars had been disloyal and unsupportive. He vowed to find work elsewhere and make Dallas pay.

That place would be Toronto, a city that had gone cupless for more than three decades. Eddie was traded to Nashville in late June in a paperwork move, then signed by the Maple Leafs as a free agent three days later.

The Leafs had just dealt Curtis Joseph away. “Cujo” was a great talent and a fan favorite in Toronto, but had failed to get the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. A big-game goalie was needed, and Toronto felt Eddie was a better bet.

All eyes were on Eddie as the season began, and it did not begin well. He let the first shot slip past him in a number of early contests, bringing a cascade of boos each time. Eddie is at his best when the fans are behind him, a fact his teammates are well aware of. They rallied to his aid, although he insisted the boo birds did not bother him. Noted diplomat Tie Domi got into the controversy, telling fans to stay home if this was how they intended to support Eddie.

The veteran quickly got back on track, and although a handful of Leaf fans stayed on his case, the knowledgeable ones saw how hard he was working, and began to appreciate the method in his sometimes mad goaltending style. Along with another newcomer, Alexander Mogilny (who joined the Leafs in 2001-02), Eddie helped to turn the season around. By mid-year, Toronto was closing in on 50 points and Eddie already had 20 wins under his belt.

As the club took shape, in many ways it became a reflection of its new goaltender: tough, edgy, take-no-prisoners, make-no-excuses. The stars played like stars, the role players played their roles, and the team gelled beautifully. Mogilny, a former 70-goal scorer, found his niche as a set-up man, which enabled Mats Sundin to rediscover his old scoring touch. Their linemate, veteran Gary Roberts, made a nice recovery from shoulder surgery to give the team a formidable first unit.

There were some pleasant surprises along the way, too. Domi, the notorious thug, established a new career high in goals, while Nik Antropov blossomed into a legitimate power forward. GM Pat Quinn picked up four talented veterans—including Owen Nolan and Doug Gilmour—at the trade deadline, but injuries still managed to dampen the growing enthusiasm in Toronto.

Eddie’s greatest contribution was holding the leads he was given—a new experience for Leaf fans, and an uplifting one for his teammates. Whenever the club had a one-goal margin in the third period, the fans started chanting "Ed-die! Ed-die!"

Down the stretch, the team’s lone weakness was its depth at defense. At times, Ed found himself facing fresh enemy lines with exhausted defenders in front of his net. All the nicks and bumps and dents were catching up with Toronto, which struggled to finish at 44-28-7-3 and sew up the 5th playoff spot.

Heading into the playoffs, the Leafs were still banged up—bad news considering their foes, the physical Philadelphia Flyers. In what turned out to be the most entertaining of the first-round tussles, Eddie and Philly puck-stopper Roman Cechmanek hooked up in an enthralling goaltending duel.

Mogilny continued his fine play with three goals in the opener, which went to Toronto on enemy ice, 5-3. The Flyers picked it up in Game Two, outskating the Leafs in a 4-1 victory to knot the series. Ed made several fine saves to keep the score within reason, but gave up some costly rebounds.


Dominik Hasek & Eddie Belfour,
1999 The Hockey News
 
 

Things heated up in Game Three, as the Leafs and Flyers went into double overtime tied 3-3. Each team had several scoring chances, but it was defenseman Tomas Kaberle who flicked in a pass from Sundin to end the game in Toronto’s favor.

Philadelphia showed why it was the NHL’s best road team by evening the series in Game Four, another tense affair that was tied after regulation. This time Eddie and Cechmanek took it into a third overtime. He stopped an amazing 72 shots, but the last one trickled through his pads in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss.

Philadelphia seized control with a 4-1 victory in Game Five, but the Leafs pushed the series to the limit with a 2-1 win two nights later—once again in double-overtime. Playing like a kid on his 38th birthday, Ed played his best game of the series.

Unfortunately, the Toronto defense collapsed in the finale, as Philly won 6-1. It was a sloppy game between two exhausted teams, but the Flyers had a little more in their tanks. Another early-round exit for the Leafs angered their supporters, but at least the team had gone down swinging. 

Motivated by the previous season's shortened playoff run, Eddie hit the ground running starting the 2003-04 season. By January, he was tied for league lead with 18 wins, and was on pace to play a brain-freezing 70 games. The last time he appeared in that many games was the 1993-94 season. 

All that work caught up to the 38-year-old veteran, and injuries began to slowhim down. First he hurt a leg, and then his back problems resurfaced. Knowing Eddie was essential to Toronto's post-season hopes, Quinn did not want to rush his return. After a deal for defenseman Brian Leetch, the Leafs were banking on a major push for the Cup. The former Conn Smythe Trophy winner joined an experineced lineup that included Sundin, Mogilny, Bryan McCabe, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk—all of whom were big on experience but hardly spring chickens.

Eddie helped lead Toronto to 103 points, third best in the Eastern Conference. Of the Leafs’ 45 wins Eddie was in the net for 34 of them. He finished the campaign tied for third in the NHL in victories and second in shutouts with 10.  

Eddie and the Leafs entered the post-season with high hopes. They faced the Senators in the first round, and the old Canadian rivalry fueled a great series that went the distance. With Toronto struggling for goals, Eddie had to be brilliant. In three of the four games Toronto won, Eddie pitched shutouts, and in Game 7, he allowed just one puck by him. The decider was played on Eddie’s 39th birthday—he stopped 36 pucks in a 4-1 victory.

In the second round, the Leafs faced off against another familiar oppoent, the Flyers. Philadelphia jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the series, as Toronto again found offense difficult to come by. Eddie and his teammates responded by taking the next two games with staunch defense, allowing one goal per contest.

Game Five was a nightmare for Eddie, as the Flyers crushed the Leafs, 7-2. Quinn pulled his goalie after 27 minutes, and six goals. Game Six went into overtime tied at 2-2. Eddie's former Chicago Blackhawks teammate, Jeremy Roenick, ended the series—and Toronto's season—with the game-winner. 

The passionate fans in Toronto—and aren't they all?—know that they can continue to expect this kind of gut-wrenching, feisty play from their Leafs, as long as Eddie is in goal. He’s built his career on being a wild man, and age has mellowed him only so much. Crazy Eddie is alive and well, and ready to deliver the Stanley Cup to one of hockey's most storied franchises.

EDDIE THE PLAYER


Tomas Kaberle,
2003 Hockey Scouting Report
 
 

Among current NHL goaltenders, Eddie might be the best athlete. He works hard to stay in shape because he needs to—his flop-down, pop-up style is incredibly demanding. He also takes more shots to the body than most goalies, and a rock-solid physique helps him bounce back from the aches and pains this causes.

Eddie's propensity for dropping low on shots, and the fact that he keeps his glove hand low when facing a shooter, makes him vulnerable to high shots. Over the years, he has given up his share of these goals, but it is not easy to fire the puck high and hard with great accuracy, so it's a calculated risk. Also, Eddie is so unpredictable that opponents often hesitate for a microsecond before they pull the trigger, giving him time to react.

He may still be Crazy Eddie, but teammates realize it's a good kind of crazy. He gets fired up, he is aggressive in the net, and he isn't afraid to chew out his defense when it's not doing the job. And he never believes he will lose. That's something you can't teach, but some of it definitely does rub off on other players.

 


Eddie Belfour,
1994 Chicago Sports Profiles
 
 
Ed Belfour

 
   
 

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