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Alex Belzile’s journey to the Canadiens is an inspirational story

August 17th, 2020 by Stu Cowan • Montreal Gazette

TORONTO — Alex Belzile is an inspiration for any kid who has ever dreamed of playing in the NHL.

The 28 year old had never played a game in the NHL before the start of these playoffs. He has now played four games with the Canadiens and picked up his first NHL point in Friday’s 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2 of their first-round series when he assisted on Joel Armia’s goal.

Belzile became the first player in Canadiens history to record his first career NHL point in a playoff game at age 28 or older.

The 6-foot, 192-pound forward grew up in Saint-Éloi, a tiny parish municipality in Quebec’s Bas-Saint-Laurent region with a population of 286 in the Canada 2016 Census. Because his home town is so small with only enough players for one team, Belzile had to play at the low midget Double-C level. The closest city with a Double-A team was a 90-minute drive away and he got cut from a Triple-A tryout.

Belzile moved up to the Champlain Cougars of Quebec’s junior Triple-A league for the 2009-10 season before getting called up to the QMJHL’s Rimouski Océanic, who held his major-junior rights. Belzile spent three seasons with Océanic, posting 22-70-92 totals in 63 games during his final year, along with 85 penalty minutes and a plus-31.

The ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators liked what they saw and that’s where Belzile began his pro hockey career in 2012-13. It was the first of five ECHL teams Belzile would play for, including the Alaska Aces, the Idaho Steelheads, the Fort Wayne Komets and the Colorado Eagles. He has also played for three AHL teams — the Hamilton Bulldogs, San Antonio Rampage and Laval Rocket.

Belzile had 7-7-14 totals in 20 games this season with the Rocket before suffering an upper-body injury at the beginning of December. He didn’t play another game until making his NHL debut with the Canadiens’ in Game 4 of their qualifying round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Canadiens won that game 2-0, advancing to the playoffs and this first-round series against the Flyers.

The Flyers won Game 3 by a 1-0 score Sunday night to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“168 games in the ECHL. 239 AHL games,” the Canadiens’ Max Domi tweeted after Belzile’s playoff debut with the Canadiens, along with a photo of him and Belzile together. “Turning 29 in 3 weeks. Alex Belzile just played his first NHL game for his childhood team. One of the best guys and hardest working guys I’ve had the pleasure of playing with. Congrats brother! Love ya.”

Canadiens coach Kirk Muller was asked about Belzile getting his first NHL point during a video conference Sunday morning.

“That’s pretty cool,” Muller said. “That’s perseverance at it’s best. You know what was great is the players addressed it at our team meeting and had him stand up and they brought it to the attention.”

Belzile is one of seven Canadiens to play in their first NHL playoff game this year, including Domi, Jake Evans, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Brett Kulak, Victor Mete and Nick Suzuki. But none of them went through what Belzile did to get here.

“Imagine his career path and it’s a lesson for kids out there,” Muller said. “It’s not always a perfect, rosy way to the NHL. He’s been in different leagues, it hasn’t been easy. But now he’s 28 years old, playing in his first playoff series, gets his first point in the NHL. It’s a good story.”

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