LOVELAND, CO – Alex Belzile. Julien Nantel. Shawn St-Amant. Pick your poison. Try to stop any one of them, and the other two have the ability to take over. All three have scored big, timely and critical goals in these 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs for the Colorado Eagles. All three look to continue this trend tonight when the Eagles host the Toledo Walleye in game four of the Western Conference Finals.
Belzile leads all players in postseason scoring with 23 points in 12 games, including 13 goals. Nantel has chipped in with 6 goals, and St-Amant had a 3 point game in Colorado’s previous series against the Allen Americans. For the three French Canadians on the team, this lengthy playoff run has been about playing meaning minutes, in meaningful playoff hockey games, and contributing to a team vying for its first Kelly Cup Championship.
“Playoff hockey is so intense, so fun,” says Belzile. “It’s incredible to be out there at the end of games and in overtime, or playing on the power play or penalty kill. It builds your confidence, it’s already helped me as a hockey player.”
Belzile enjoyed a 17-game stint with the Eagles earlier this season where he netted 27 points in 17 games but spent the majority of the year with AHL affiliate San Antonio where he dressed in 45 games. His time in Colorado, however, gave him a psychological boost when he got called back up.
“I went on a five-game point streak as soon as I got called back up. I realized I just had to play my game. One of my biggest assets is my intensity, but my confidence was down. I went back and played with intensity, grit, (and) confidence.” It has carried over into the playoffs with the Eagles. “Just keep shooting, get pucks to the net, good things happen. I want to continue to set the tone, have a shooting mentality and play with passion. Just continue to do what I do best.”
While Belzile is one of most experienced Eagles in terms of playoff experience, (he won a Kelly Cup Championship with the now defunct Alaska Aces in 2013-2014), Nantel and St-Amant are two of the least experienced and are the two youngest players on the team. Both are just 20 but have been playing against each other for a decade. Growing up in suburban Montreal, both Nantel and St-Amant knew of each and faced off on the ice dozens of times, whether that be in PeeWee hockey or the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It wasn’t until this year with the Rampage and the Eagles where they’ve had the opportunity to play side by side.
“Playing with (St-Amant) instead of against him has been great this year. I wish I had gotten to know him better over the years. He adds a lot to any team he’s on,” says Nantel, who scored the overtime winner for the Eagles on Wednesday night in game 3 against Toledo. Big goals in big moments have helped build Nantel’s confidence as well.
“A lot of the year in San Antonio I played a defensive role, I wasn’t playing late in games, I wasn’t playing critical minutes. Now, being able to step up and play at those times, it means a lot.” Nantel is a 2014 7th round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche and hopes that meaningful minutes this year will propel him to new heights next season. He recognizes there’s some unfinished business with the Eagles, however.
“I’m going to continue to play hard, and work hard. Hopefully we can bring a championship to Colorado and the fans. The fans here know the team, they know hockey. It would be a nice way to finish off this season.”
Keeping with the building confidence theme, St-Amant has enjoyed his time with Colorado and what it has meant to his hockey career.
“Sometimes when you get sent down, you don’t realize immediately how good it is for you. I have gained a lot of confidence this year and it’s been pretty exciting,” says St. Amant, who scored a pivotal game three goal against Toledo just 14 seconds into the contest.
“The playoffs have been exciting. Sometimes the intensity feels like it was in juniors. I need to stay focused and play smart.” Of the three French Canadians, St-Amant is the one who spent the most time with Colorado in the regular season playing in 35 games. “There is a true hockey passion here. The crowd is loud and (Budweiser Events Center) is a great rink.”
All three players scored key goals in the Eagles game three victory over Toledo on Wednesday. St-Amant with the opener. Belzile scored to tied it at 2, and Nantel scored the OT winner. The win gave Colorado a 2-1 series lead.
Colorado hosts Toledo tonight at 7:05 MT and game 5 Saturday night at 7:05 MT.