GLENDALE, Ariz. – Skating for Washington in last year’s playoffs, Eric Belanger felt his teeth shatter when Montreal defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron’s stick whacked him in the face.
Not wanting to miss any time—it was the playoffs, after all—Belanger had emergency surgery inside the arena, including the trimming of exposed tooth roots, and returned in time for the third period.
Gritty determination like that was one of the reasons the Phoenix Coyotes went after the veteran centre this off-season.
Phoenix got its man on Tuesday, signing Belanger to a one-year free agent deal after he was initially expected to re-sign with Washington.
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
“We are excited to have Eric join us here in Phoenix,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. “He is a smart, quick, talented centre who plays well on both sides of the puck. We had identified Eric early in the free agency period as someone who would be a great fit with us and feel fortunate we are able to bring him to the Coyotes organization.”
Originally drafted by Los Angeles in 1996, Belanger has bounced around in nine NHL seasons, playing for the Kings, Carolina, Atlanta, Minnesota and Washington.
Belanger spent two seasons with the Wild before being traded to Washington last season. He ended up scoring a career-high 41 points, including 15 goals, and played 17 games for the playoff-bound Capitals.
The 32-year-old made a name for himself in Game 5 of the series against Montreal, returning to the ice after losing six teeth and undergoing surgery.
“I knew I was in trouble, but what are you going to do? It’s the playoffs,” he said at the time.
Belanger has 121 goals and 178 assists in 634 career games.