Avalanche’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare joins Antoine Roussel in NHL 500 club

Growing up in France, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare didn’t know the difference between a blue line and a clothesline well into his formative years.

And he certainly didn’t know what the NHL was until his late teens.

For the Avalanche forward to reach 500 NHL games played Saturday at age 36, therefore, seems surreal.

“If I can make it, trust me, (anybody) can make it,” Bellemare said.

Bellemare is just the second French athlete to play that many regular-season NHL games, joining Antoine Roussel (554 games) of the Vancouver Canucks. (Canadian Paul MacLean was also born in France in 1958 when his father served with the Canadian Armed Forces).

Bellemare picked up hockey because his older sister and brother started playing, primarily in the street. He grew to love the sport and played 11 years of professional hockey in Europe — three in France and eight in Sweden — before joining the Philadelphia Flyers as an undrafted free agent at age 29 in 2014.

“Pretty surreal, to be honest,” Bellemare said of reaching 500 NHL games. “Obviously, I’m proud of it. It’s something for our country. It’s huge for our youngsters. When I came home (Saturday) I had time to kind of think about all the different memories and kind of what it took to come into the NHL.”

It took being a solid teammate — a hard worker and a friend to everybody on his team. Bellemare said the key time in his development was in the fall of 2006 when he left Rouen of the French league to play for Leksands IF in a bottom-tier Swedish league.

“It was tough. It was uneasy. I came (from) a country that was really nice but hockey in France was not known internationally,” Bellemare said. “I remember telling my mom after a few weeks, ‘I think I’ll be back home (soon),’ because it was a tryout contract. We were five (players) for one spot and eventually, we were fighting for the 13th (forward) spot.”

Bellemare stuck with the club, and eventually signed a contract.

“Not because I was the best hockey player,” he said. “It was because they literally told me, ‘Your attitude is contagious. You’re so positive. We want to see if you can keep doing that for another year.’

“So my first contract in Sweden wasn’t really signed because I was good at hockey. It was more about who I was in the locker room and since then it’s been following me every (year). That tough time in Sweden definitely helped me to become who I am now, and the reason why I’m on this team and the reason why I’m still in the NHL.”

Bellemare is in his second season with the Avs after signing as a free agent on July 1, 2019, following two seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights selected him from the Flyers in the 2017 expansion draft.

Bellemare joined the Avs five days after the club added forward Andre Burakovsky in a trade with the Washington Capitals. Burakovsky was born in Austria but grew up in Sweden.

“He’s the best teammate. He’s always positive. He’s always coming in with a smile and always bringing a lot of energy to the locker room,” Burakovsky, 26, said of Bellemare. “For me, coming to a new team and he was new, too, we kind of bonded. He was talking perfect Swedish so I had a conversation with him. I think it’s really good and really fun to have him on the team and he’s working his (tail) off every day for the team, sacrificing for the team.”

The two full seasons for Avs standout defenseman Cale Makar has also coincided with Bellemare’s tenure.

“He’s just positive all the time,” Makar said of the player 14 years his senior. “He can put anybody in a good mood, really. He loves to talk. Just his positively brings the mood up all the time. He is a leader — that’s just a testament to how long he’s been in the league.”

Footnote. The Avs, coming off Monday’s 4-3 overtime victory at San Jose, had an optional practice Tuesday at SAP Center, where they will face the Sharks in their eighth and final meeting of the season and the last of a four-game stretch between the clubs. Colorado is 6-1 in the series.

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