Backstop for the keeper

The game has changed since Brent Belecki blocked pucks for the Portland Winterhawks.

The game has changed since Brent Belecki blocked pucks for the Portland Winterhawks.

The Red Deer Rebels new goaltender coach believes the changes are for the better.

With advanced coaching techniques and, quite simply, more coaches on the payroll, today’s Western Hockey League players are more prepared than ever. Netminders are no exception, Belecki noted.

“Back when I played there wasn’t a lot of specific teaching and coaching for goaltenders. I never really had a goalie coach unless I was at an NHL camp or a coach had been sent down to the American Hockey League,” said Belecki, who replaced Andy Nowicki as the Rebels goaltending consultant.

“But every (WHL) team has one now and there’s a lot of attention to detail with that coaching. I think it’s only going to benefit the players as well as the game. It’s a pretty important position and to isolate a lot of little things that we can do as a goaltender coach I think is a good thing.”

As a 20-year-old, Belecki backstopped the Winterhawks to a Memorial Cup championship in 1998, then played six seasons in the minors with stops in the AHL (two games with Utah), the ECHL and the Central and United leagues.

His playing career ended in 2005 and he returned home to Calgary, where he is now employed as a firefighter. Belecki, now 32, has also instructed at the National Sports Academy for four years and has also been associated with the Goaltender Development Institute and World Pro Goaltending.

Following Nowicki’s off-season resignation, Belecki expressed interest in the Rebels position and in August was offered a contract by head coach/vice-president of hockey operations Jesse Wallin.

“We worked out some of the details with me commuting (from Calgary) and the time I would be spending here,” said Belecki. “With my job as a firefighter, I’m on for four days and off for four. Still, with the Rebels’ schedule it’s tough . . . there’s a lot of games and a lot of travel involved. So we hammered out a schedule that will have me in Red Deer seven to 10 days a month. I’ll watch some games and work with the guys in practice.”

With his experience as an instructor at the three Calgary goaltending academies, stepping into the Red Deer job should be a natural transition.

Belecki thoroughly enjoyed his time as a WHL goaltender and winning the Memorial Cup in his final season with Portland remains as a definite highlight in his playing career.

“No question, that season stands out, but I had a lot of fun all four years that I played in this league,” he said. “It was a great time and I think a lot of guys will tell you once they’ve played pro that junior is a lot of fun and that you take a lot of good memories from those times.”


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