By Tim Campbell

Team Europe forward proud to represent his country at World Cup

Forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was among the delayed arrivals for Team Europe’s training camp for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, competing for France in a 2018 PyeongChang Olympics qualifier in Oslo, Norway.

He arrived in Quebec City for the first phase of camp not with a “victory hangover,” as Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger referred to it this week when talking about qualifiers Germany, Norway and Slovenia, but with disappointment.

Until Bellemare realized that France had done its best and is moving in the right direction in international play. It lost 2-1 last Sunday to Norway in the Olympic qualifying final of Group F.

“It’s easier to talk now about it than a couple of days ago,” Bellemare said Saturday after Team Europe’s practice at Bell Centre. “Since I’ve been on the national team, we’ve never been able to qualify. Not that close any time. We always have one bad game. This year we were playing really solid and I’m really proud the way our national team is doing, the road we’re taking now.

“We’ve played well. We lost the last game against a team that was better than us. The positive thing in that is that we made them worry for 58 minutes and they [got] a goal at the last minute of the game. That was good for France, to show all our fans and those behind us.”

Bellemare said he comes to the World Cup full of pride in his country, an emotion that Krueger has fostered and encouraged among the players from eight different nations that make up Team Europe.

“I never dreamed of the NHL when I was a kid because it wasn’t on TV,” Bellemare said. “When I grew up, as a French hockey player, you were always told you would never make the NHL. And the Olympics, that’s a dream, too. If I had known there was a World Cup, I would have dreamed of that, too.

“This is huge. There has been a lot of talk that we are not a team that represents one country but at the end of the day, any player in this locker room is having it tougher, somehow, in hockey because we don’t come from countries that are hockey countries. The sport we are playing in our own countries is not maybe the sport that generates the most revenue, the most TV time, the best coaches and somehow we all had to go through different preparation mentally to come into the NHL and I think that’s what makes our team strong.

“We’ve been through a tough past and it’s fun to do this. I’m super proud, super happy to be here.”

You can see that every time the 31-year-old from Le Blanc-Mesnil, France, opens his mouth. When he does, you see the Tricolore, the blue, white and red of his mouthguard.

“I have it from the national team a few years ago and at first, I wasn’t sure I should wear it but then, why not?” Bellemare said. “But now that I’m here, I was thinking I shouldn’t because maybe guys will think I’m cocky but really, I’m just happy to represent my country.”

Bellemare skated Saturday on a line with Thomas Vanek and Jannik Hansen and said he sees himself as part of Team Europe’s support group at the World Cup, which begins Sept. 17 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Team Europe plays Team USA in its tournament opener (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2, SN, TVA Sports).

“I’m not the most talented guy on the team but I’m working [hard] every time I can and I have no problem blocking shots and killing penalties,” he said. “This is fun to be able to be part of this amazing event.

“It’s amazing because if you look at all the names in this locker room, it’s only big names and then me. I’ve been trying to help the team every time and I’m not the face of the franchise except maybe when I’m with the national team, and there I have to help the team. So to be here, even just to take the role of killing penalties and things like that, less-glory roles, it’s a huge, huge reward and I’m really proud to be able to represent the country in this kind of manner.”

Bellemare, who spent eight seasons in Sweden’s top professional league, didn’t arrive in the NHL until he was 29.

He has played two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and said there is one over-riding take.

“Let’s face it, when you play playoff hockey, you don’t want to play any other hockey after that,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve seen it in Europe but it’s another thing to be on the ice and feel the pressure and the adrenaline. You do get tired but then you hear your name to go on the ice and you do [it] again without even thinking your legs are tired. What an unbelievable feeling.”

Bellemare said at this stage of his career, he revels in every moment.

“I came late to the NHL,” he said. “I’m not 18 or 20. I don’t focus on the same things, because I’m a little older. I know what I need to do to help the team and I can appreciate it more. You come at 30 years old and you appreciate every second of it.

“It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of learning and the second year was better than my first because we made the playoffs. And now this year, what a start. You’re playing with the best players in the world, as simple as that.”