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The Eagle Soars Up the List

Saturday, 22.10.2005 / 6:11 PM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
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The Eagle Soars Up the List

TORONTO (CP) -- Ed Belfour has just passed Jacques Plante on the all-time goaltending wins list and needs only 10 more to move into second place ahead of Terry Sawchuk.

This is the circle of legends.

Retired No. 1 Patrick Roy and Belfour are locks to join the two deceased greats in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and to be talked about in the same breath as such great goalies fills Eddie the Eagle with pride.

"I never used to pay much attention to these things but as you play more years in the league people point them out to you and you start watching a little bit,'' he said after practice with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday. "It's definitely an honour to be a part of guys who set those milestones.''

Roy won 550 games and Sawchuk won 447 in the days of paper-thin equipment, nothing like the armour now worn. Belfour earned his 438th on Thursday to move ahead of Plante.

Belfour was a boy of five growing up in Carman, Man., when Sawchuk played his last game in 1970, the year he died of injury-related complications after a shoving match with roommate Ron Stewart.

Belfour was eight when Plante retired in 1973. Plante revolutionized goaltending by introducing masks. He died in 1986 of stomach cancer.

"I heard that Jacques was a real innovator always tinkering with the equipment and stuff,'' Belfour said. "I've watched a few classic games and seen him play a few times.

"I liked the way he played. He played the puck and was really active with his stick, really acrobatic. He was very athletic.''

Belfour has read a book that was written about Sawchuk in 1997.

"He did whatever it took to stop the puck,'' said Belfour. "There was a picture (in the book) that showed all the scars on his face.

"It was unbelievable how brave those guys were. He's definitely one of my heroes. He was such a fierce competitor.''

Roy will undoubtedly be named for induction into the Hall of Fame when his three-year waiting period expires next year, while Belfour might be waiting a while because he's not contemplating retirement.

"I don't have any goals or a set plan,'' Belfour said. "I just want to keep playing the best I can.

"As long as I can stay healthy and keep doing that, hopefully I'll keep playing. You want to come to the rink feeling good about yourself.''

He was feeling mighty good about himself as the Leafs prepared to play the visiting Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night.

Belfour would need to play three more seasons after this one to have a chance at overtaking Roy. He's 40 now so it's an improbable goal, but no goalie works harder at maintaining a high standard so don't assume it's out of the question.

"Just to see him work at practice every day, it's so cool,'' says backup Mikael Tellqvist. "He's almost the first guy here in the morning and almost the last guy to leave every day.

"It's something to look up to, I think.''

Tellqvist doesn't get to play much because Belfour is a workhorse. He's started six of Toronto's seven games. Coach Pat Quinn never assumes Belfour needs a rest.

"Basically, Pat decides or he comes to me and he'll ask me how I'm feeling,'' Belfour said. "It's a good communication that Pat and I have.

"He's been great with me. I really appreciate that.''

Belfour had back surgery during the lockout.

"There's always room for improvement but I've been feeling pretty comfortable,'' he said. "I'm moving pretty well, seeing the puck.

"I feel strong in the crouch and recovering from saves. Overall, I'm pretty happy with that so far.''

He doesn't mind that shots on goal are up as a result of league measures to boost offence.

"It makes it more exciting for everyone involved in the game,'' he said. "It keeps you on the edge, for sure.

"If you're on your game, it's fun because you're coming up with the saves. Sometimes it may work out the opposite way. You just have to realize the game is changing.''

One thing that doesn't change is his strong positional play. A lot of shots hit Belfour in the chest because he's usually in the right place at the right time.

Belfour is making $4.56 million US this season. Does GM John Ferguson want to re-sign a goalie who will be 41 next spring? It's going to be a controversial decision either way.

Regardless, Tellqvist will always be thankful he got to break into the NHL as Belfour's understudy.

"It's an awesome feeling,'' said the Swede. "It's going to be even more cool after my career when I can tell everybody that I played with Ed Belfour.

"Right now you're so focused on trying to play hockey, but it's going to be something to tell the grandkids about in the future.''

 

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