The list of Edmonton born NHL players that have played for the Oilers has been growing. Starting with the one and only Mark Messier, then Mike Comrie, Joffrey Lupul and more recently Jason Strudwick and Gilbert Brule. Another name we can add to that list is Shawn Belle.
Belle was signed to a one year, two way deal this past summer in what looked to be a signing for the Oklahoma City Barons more than anything. As the year progressed, that is indeed how things ended up working out. Despite getting a call up, Belle only played 5 games with the Oilers and had zero points. This hadn't dampened his spirits from all outward appearances however.
I was given the opportunity to speak to Belle a few times the weekend before trade deadline day, the day Belle was moved to the Colorado Avalanche for Kevin Montgomery. The trade will likely have more effect on the Oklahoma City Barons than the Edmonton Oilers in the short term. In my opportunities to see the operations of the Barons' team I noted that Belle was much loved by the fans and the players. In speaking with him I learned that it was his biggest dream to play for the Edmonton Oilers and I could understand his wishes. His pride in not only the game, but also for being associated with the Oilers' organization was easily realised and I was saddened to learn that he had been moved February 28th, I had only just spoken with him on how excited he was to be an Oiler. As Steve Tambellini currently holds the reigns, there is nothing more that I can do besides let you read some of what Shawn Belle had to say to me on Saturday February 26th during a game against the Minnesota Wild farm team, the Houston Aeros. Another of his remarks is that we should consider changing the name of this website to the blue and orange, a colour scheme that he loves and felt extreme amounts of pride wearing.
Copper & Blue: You were drafted 30th in the first round of 2003, how white were your knuckles?
Shawn Belle: I wouldn't say that they were too white; we didn't really know where I was going. We thought that it would be anywhere between 17th and 42nd so they weren't really white, we just didn't have any idea. When I finally got called it was just such a huge relief and it was a really exciting time for me and my family.
Copper & Blue: But it did mean more to you to be drafter in the first rather than the second round though didn't it?
Shawn Belle: Everyone obviously wants to go in the first round but at the same time, it's just a foot in the door and you have to push your way through to try to get into the NHL. It's just another step in your career path.
Copper & Blue: We were both born in Edmonton. I know what my favourite team was growing up, but would you like to talk to our readers about who your favourite team was?
Shawn Belle: [laughs] My favourite team was the Oilers but I also liked the Canadiens a lot. My parents lived in Montreal for a while before they came to Edmonton, so I was pretty much split. I would say that it was 60/40 Oilers though.
Copper & Blue: Did you have any favourite players that you wanted to emulate or that influenced your play growing up?
Shawn Belle: Paul Coffey was easily one of the better guys in Edmonton. Kevin Lowe was another great player. But there are so many good defencemen out there you kind of pick up what they do well and kind of just go from there. So I wouldn't say that there was one guy that I try to emulate myself after.
Copper & Blue: So it sounds like you always wanted to be a defenceman?
Shawn Belle: Actually I started out as a forward. I played one game on defence and I never went back. The coach, well I guess I played pretty well because he never changed me back.
Copper & Blue: Did that work for you?
Shawn Belle: It's worked so far. I had a couple of coaches dabble and try to put me back forward in my pro career so far, but I think defenceman is my position.
Copper & Blue: You signed with the Oilers, a team needing some help on the blue line, was that a key point in your decision?
Shawn Belle: I've always followed the Oilers, I've always liked the Oilers, I've known lots of guys in the organization for a long time and that dates back to my draft year. I've known Tambellini since 2003, I've known these guys and I know their kids. I was really excited to be here and I hope to stay for a long time.
Copper & Blue: Have you received specific advice or feedback from any of the organizations you've been working with?
Shawn Belle: Edmonton's probably been the best and most open with what I need to do. They definitely want me to be a solid player. When I came out of junior I was more of an offensive guy. I'd rush the puck more and they're saying that's my biggest asset and I'll continue to use it but I also need to add more of the physical aspects of the game.
Copper & Blue: Speaking of your time in juniors, I noticed that you were an offensive defenceman in juniors, you were more focused on defence working with the '05 world juniors and also working with the Minnesota Wild system. I'm seeing ability for you to develop into a strong 2 way defenceman. What are your ambitions going forward?
Shawn Belle: I think that's basically what it's going to be. I'm going to be a big 2 way defenceman. My speed is my biggest asset, so being able to jump into the play and add an extra level of offence is obviously a big part of my game. At the same time I've got to be a really solid defencively if I want to make the next jump to the NHL.
Copper & Blue: You're a fast skater, you've got great size, I've read that you have a great work ethic what else do you think you need to bring with you to any team you play for, or to the Oilers more specifically and hopefully?
Shawn Belle: I think I need to be more physical and more assertive in the way that I play. I'm a big guy and I need to use more size more. You've got to be first to every puck and you can't take a shift off, ever. So I mean if I can be more assertive then everything is going to wind up going well for me.
Copper & Blue: Tom Renney said that you need to work on your physical play or shape; it was sort of a vague clip. Did he tell you anything specific like that?
Shawn Belle: Ya, basically that's all coming straight from Tom Renney's mouth. It's just being more assertive, use your size to your advantage, and use your speed to your advantage. If you've got size and speed it's going to be harder to knock you off of the puck. Guys are not going to want to come to your corner if you're being really aggressive on them it will just make the game easier for me and it's something that the Oilers need.
Copper & Blue: The Canadiens, the Wild and the Oilers all have very knowledgeable fans and high pressure media coverage; do you find that this has added pressure to your experience and development, and then how does it feel to come out to Oklahoma where the coverage is less?
Shawn Belle: Absolutely no pressure for me, I mean obviously there is a desire to be in the NHL and so far not being there is disappointing for me but these big hockey markets are only a distraction if you let them be. Being from Edmonton everyone says you're the home town kid, everyone's going to be harder on you. At the same time they might be a little easier on you. It works both ways. If you're playing the way that you are supposed to nothing is going to happen, no one is going to bother you. Oklahoma's been great so far, the fans have been pretty good. The first game we had about 10, 000 fans. We haven't been there again, but every time we step out onto the ice, they're here and they're loud. We have the fans here to help us with the playoff push and I think that we'll do well.
Copper & Blue: Are you guys actively involved in the community then, trying to get more fans out here? What do they have you doing?
Shawn Belle: Hospital visits, school visits. We have a week off coming up and I think that every day some guys have things to do so we're in the community constantly; I think that most since I've turned pro. We're trying to make our mark on the community and get more people out.
Copper & Blue: I can tell you that a number of Oilers' fans were excited when you were signed because you look so great on paper and are disappointed that we have only had a short look at you so far. On the other hand though, maybe you are here to help with the playoff push and run. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Shawn Belle: Obviously, as I've said before it's a little disappointing that I haven't been with the Oilers longer. The season is almost done this year, but I would love to sign with them again. I think that I could help the organization and make my dream of being in the NHL and playing for my home town that would be just awesome.
Copper & Blue: I think that a lot of Oilers fans would like to see a native Edmontonian that would stick around for a while.
Shawn Belle: Absolutely, the fans there are unbelievable.
Copper & Blue: You're saying that because you're sitting right beside me though aren't you?
Shawn Belle: [laughs] Absolutely not, because you moved to Calgary but every time I've been there it's been really loud and I mean even though the team hasn't been doing as well as everyone would have liked the past couple of years. People still show up every single night and they're still supportive. It really hit home how supportive last year, how supportive the fans were, when the team was dead last and they still got a standing ovation at the end of the year. That was pretty classy by the Edmonton fans. I love it.
Shawn Belle: Ya, exactly, it makes it easier when you're getting these great players coming in. It's a part of the puzzle and you want to continue building towards the future. If they can keep building the way they are, they're on the right track and they're going to be a serious contender and I would love to be a part of that.
Copper & Blue: I think that you would be a great veteran, or intermediate defenceman.
Shawn Belle: Well I'm a veteran down here, but I'm a rookie up there. I'd really rather be a rookie up there.
Copper & Blue: Do you really feel like a rookie up there?
Shawn Belle: No, not really. I mean it's not my first rodeo. I know a bunch of the guys in the organization as well. I know Shawn Horcoff, I've known him for a long time. You could probably ask him, we played in the Bounce together in a summer hockey league when he used to stay there. I've known him for a while, Strudwick too and I don't necessarily feel like a rookie but by statistics I am.
Copper & Blue: So what will it take to make you not feel like a rookie anymore?
Shawn Belle: Getting a full season under my belt [laughs] then I won't be a rookie anymore.
Copper & Blue: So what do you feel that you have to offer here as a veteran to this team?
Shawn Belle: I've got pretty good playoff experience last year. We went to the Western Conference finals. So if I can get back on the ice, being on such good teams in the past, I can help show them how to win, I can help out any way I can in the locker room with guys that need help off the ice. I can be there for that too.
Copper & Blue: The impression I'm getting is that you are well loved in the locker room. The guys can't stop smiling when you're around and you have such a great rapport with them and the fans.
Shawn Belle: Well I don't know if they love me or if they just like to give me a hard time. I don't know which one it is but...
Copper & Blue: Does it really matter?
Shawn Belle: No, it doesn't really matter. It's nice to have the guys come to you for problems, or have the respect from the guys in the locker room. I really miss being down there, and I really miss being on the ice with them at game time. Hopefully I can be back there soon.
Copper & Blue: Well alright, it's been wonderful talking with you.
Shawn Belle: Thank you.
I'm sad to see Shawn Belle move on in many ways, but I hope that he finds the success that he is looking for and working towards.