UWS goalie Belfour embraces daunting role
By Rick Weegman
Dayn Belfour played forward and defense on youth hockey teams while growing up in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, Ill.
One Christmas he asked for, and received, goaltending equipment from his father, Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ed Belfour.
“He said, ‘Are you really sure you want to do this?’” the younger Belfour recalled Wednesday. “I think every son, when they are little, wants to grow up and be just like his dad. I know that’s quite an obstacle for me, but I don’t wish I could have done anything else. I’m happy to be a goalie.”
The desire to follow in the footsteps of his Hall of Fame and Stanley Cup champion father hasn’t been easy, but Belfour is playing the best hockey of his career as Wisconsin-Superior (11-14-3) heads into the inaugural Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship game at Wisconsin-Eau Claire (18-8-1) on Saturday night.
The junior transfer from Division I Nebraska-Omaha stopped 61 of 62 shots as the Yellowjackets defeated regular-season champion Wisconsin-River Falls twice in last weekend’s semifinals.
That’s a night-and-day switch from Belfour’s early season struggles that saw him sit behind senior Drew Strandberg.
“In the beginning, it was frustrating for me,” Belfour acknowledges. “I wasn’t playing like I know I was capable of playing. From the beginning of the season till now, it’s a completely different hockey team and my game is completely different.”
Reasons for overall team improvement include the maturation process of four freshmen used on defense and coach Dan Stauber deciding to end his goaltending rotation.
“We’re going with the hot hand,” Stauber said.
That’s the 24-year-old Belfour, who has lowered his goals-against average a full point since it rose to 3.61 at midseason and raised his save percentage from .844 to .911.
“He might be a little more focused,” Stauber said. “When a goalie plays a few games back-to-back, they get into a groove. He’s played extremely well down the stretch. And the team is playing better defensively.”
Though win or lose, the Yellowjackets’ season is over Saturday — the five-team WIAC has no automatic berth in the NCAA Division III field — Belfour’s play gives UWS hope for improvement in the 2014-15 season.
It’s the least Belfour says he can do since the Yellowjackets tossed his hockey career a lifeline. Outside of UWS and Hamline University in St. Paul, no college teams were interested in the journeyman after his two-year stay in Omaha ended.
“To be honest, I didn’t have anywhere else to go,” he said.
A previous coach hinted that UWS might need a goalie, and Belfour made inquiries.
“When I made the switch from Omaha to UWS, I was a little sad having been forced out of Omaha,” he said. “A lot of my best friends are in Omaha and I started to build my life around Omaha. But this is a new chapter in my life and I’m happy that things are starting to turn around for me at Wisconsin-Superior.”
Staying in one place hasn’t been the easiest thing for Belfour. The business and economics major says he “lived out of a suitcase” during much of his upbringing. Stops included Toronto, Ann Arbor, Mich., for a year and three years near Winnipeg, Manitoba. Ed’s parents, Alma and Henry Belfour, helped raise him during those teenage years while his mother, Rita Gonsorowski-Karakul, lived outside Toronto and his dad returned to the Dallas area after his NHL career ended.
Though Ed Belfour hasn’t been able to take in any UWS games, he’s just a phone call away.
“He still gives me a lot of support over the phone and helps me through as much as he can without visiting,” his son said. “My dad is my biggest hero and my best friend. He’s always been there for me and always will be.”
And that’s something no opponent’s taunting can take away. The last name Belfour has made Dayn a target over the years, but he wouldn’t change it for anything.
“Opponents grind my gears sometimes — they call me a sieve and tell me I suck,” he said. “But they’re just jealous because I have the best teacher in the world. I try to use the name to the best advantage I possibly can in the game of hockey, and it’s definitely proven worthy.
“I’m very blessed for my name and my father. At times it can be a little bit of a curse, but it’s a good curse.”