|Belak finds net for first time in 4 years, using hands for more than punching|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 07 December 2007 13:20|
And why not? When a hard-hitting, punch-throwing forward scores his first goal in four years, there are many questions to be answered.
``It's quite a big deal for the city of Toronto with Wade Belak scoring,'' he said jokingly.
Belak scored Toronto's final goal in a 3-1 home win over Nashville on Tuesday night. It was his first in 143 games, dating to Dec. 20, 2003, against Montreal.
``I don't know what the big deal is,'' said Belak, who has eight goals and 21 assists in 408 NHL games. ``I guess because I was going for the record: Bob McGill. I'm glad I'm out of the running. Hopefully I don't start another one.''
McGill holds the Maple Leafs mark for most consecutive games without a goal. He was blanked for 198 games from Nov. 6, 1981, until Dec. 10, 1985.
Now that Belak has one, fears arose that the 6-foot-5, 221-pound winger might look to pad his offensive stats.
``He's talked about that,'' Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said with a smile. ``His agent's called and we've had some discussions.''
Surprisingly, Belak was still far behind the NHL's current longest streak. Vancouver defenseman Aaron Miller entered the weekend on a 188-game run without scoring. His last goal came on Nov. 27, 2003, about a month before Belak's drought started.
``They made such a big deal about me,'' Belak said. ``We've got guys on this team that score pretty much every other game and it doesn't get that much hype. I guess when a guy who doesn't score a lot of goals, who's not expected to score any goals, gets one, I think everybody is happy for him.''
Belak played his fifth straight game on Thursday against the New York Rangers after being scratched from 12 of the previous 14. He didn't have a point before Tuesday, but has four fights and 28 penalty minutes in 13 appearances this season.
Playing on a line with Mark Bell and Chad Kilger, Belak connected on the trio's first shift of the third period against Nashville.
``Mark wasn't here the last time I scored, so I don't even know if he knows the history,'' Belak said. ``I think he was just happy we scored.
``The game before, he scored. The week before, Kilger scored. So it was kind of nice we all got a goal in a two-week span. We obviously go out there to try to make something happen, but ultimately we're trying to keep the puck out of our end and just be physical. Goals are bonuses for us, for myself anyway.''
Belak's numbers are usually measured in fights and penalty minutes. He has dropped the gloves 98 times in his career.
He was shaky on the details of his previous NHL goal. He thought it was the one against Montreal, but wasn't sure if maybe it came in New Jersey.
``I can't remember. It was back in 2003 so ...,'' he said. ``My last professional goal was in England during the lockout.''
Belak posted three in 20 games while playing for Britain's Coventry Blaze.
``It was nice to have my 15 minutes of glory,'' he said. ``Now let's move on from this and work for number two.''
GOALIE GOALS: Wade Belak's struggle to score brings to mind some of the best stick-handling goaltenders.
This weekend marked the 20th anniversary of Ron Hextall's famed shot, the one that sent the puck from his goal crease into an empty net at the other end.
Yes, a goalie had scored before Dec. 8, 1987 - just not like this. Hextall became the first netminder to actually shoot a puck into the net for a goal.
Billy Smith of the New York Islanders was credited with the first goal by a goalie when he was the last player on his team to touch the puck before it was put into the Colorado Rockies' open net on Nov. 28, 1979.
Hextall sealed Philadelphia's 5-2 win over Boston two decades ago at the Spectrum two months into his second season. With Bruins goalie Reggie Lemelin off for an extra skater, Hextall used his curved stick to take a historic shot.
``My teammates all came off the bench and that was the special part for me,'' Hextall, the Los Angeles Kings assistant general manager, told NHL.com. ``I remember Scott Mellanby just screaming. I started thinking, 'Maybe this is bigger than I thought.'''
Some even anticipated Hextall becoming the first to find an empty net. He loved to handle the puck and predated Martin Brodeur and Marty Turco as goalies who would go all over to get it on their stick.
There was no goalie trapezoid in those days.
Hextall proved this was no fluke as he scored again two years later in a playoff game against the Washington Capitals.
``Somebody told me that it had been over 100 games since I had scored,'' Hextall said back then. ``I guess it was time.''
Since Hextall broke the ice, Chris Osgood, Brodeur, Jose Theodore and Evgeni Nabokov, joined him as goal-scoring goalies - the conventional way.
``I didn't realize it would cause the stir that it did,'' Hextall said.
SHOWING UP: NHL games in November drew 3,367,547 fans to 199 games for a record average of 16,922. That topped the previous average mark for November of 16,818, set in 2005 after the end of the lockout.
It was also 2.3 percent greater than last year's November average of 16,538 people per game. Through the first 391 games this season, 6,603,908 people came to NHL games for an average of 16,890 - 1.9 percent more than a year ago.
But attendance is not good everywhere.
In the New York area alone, the Devils and Islanders have played before some sparse crowds. That is especially distressing in New Jersey, where the Devils are breaking in their new arena in Newark.
The 17,625-seat Prudential Center was declared full only twice in the first 11 games it hosted - opening night against Ottawa and the first visit by the New York Rangers. In eight November games, the announced attendance average was only 14,993, with chunks of empty seats evident throughout the arena
The Islanders are still dreaming of playing in a new arena, and are struggling to get people to come to 35-year-old Nassau Coliseum.
Through 15 home games this season, the Islanders posted four sellouts. But back-to-back November games against Dallas and Ottawa - both division leaders - drew 8,161 and 9,211 fans, respectively.
STAYING HOME? Although it is still six years away, there is already talk that NHL players might miss the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The collective bargaining agreement that ended the yearlong lockout in 2005 stipulates that the NHL would again break for the 2010 games in Vancouver, British Columbia, but doesn't go further.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman isn't ready to make a commitment beyond that.
To participate in the Olympics, which always fall during the midst of the North American season, the league must shut down for about 17 days. Vancouver will mark the fourth consecutive games that NHL players have attended.
``I think after Vancouver we'll have to take a deep breath, debrief and make sure that when we balance the pros and cons from going to the Olympics, the pros exceed the cons if we're going to do it again,'' Bettman said.
The long in-season break takes the NHL out of the mainstream sports culture for a long time around the time that playoff races start to heat up. Also, the All-Star game is skipped in Olympic years, which eliminates a key showcase event for the league.