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Enforcer Wade Belak usually lost near net but never lost for words

TORONTO - Okay, mom, it's time to come across with the five bucks.

It's on its way, Wade Belak expects. Of the more than 30 congratulatory messages on his phone when he returned home after scoring his first NHL goal in four years, one was from his mother.

"I was asked to call my mom immediately so I woke up my folks," Belak said after practice Wednesday. "My mom was pretty excited.

"She's going to have to give me five bucks now for that goal. The rule still applies from minor hockey."

Belak had yet to call his brother, a cop in Whitehorse.

"He won't believe it," said Belak.

For the first time since joining the Leafs nearly seven years ago, the six-foot-five bruiser from Saskatoon was picked as one of the game's three stars. He knows he won't be overtaking the club's established stars for the monthly Molson Cup award, but he's hoping for a minor perk.

"I'm waiting for my case of Molsons," he said.

Teammate Alex Steen laughed as he leaned an ear into the reporters' scrum with Belak, who with an assist in his previous game now has points in consecutive games.

"When Wade Belak gets a point, we win," Belak said. "It's been proven.

"You look back at all my goals and see if we won or not. Usually it's a bad night for the other team."

He was asked if the stick he used in practice was the same one with which he'd scored his rare goal.

"No, no. That's in the Hockey Hall of Fame now," he replied.

Actually, he'll have it in his hands again Thursday night when the Leafs are in New York to play the Rangers. He does, however, hallucinate about getting a silver stick.

"Usually guys who get their 1,000th point get a silver stick. Hopefully, I'll get it for third-longest run (without a goal) in Maple Leafs history."

He went 143 NHL games without scoring. He sat out many games along the way because his coaches opted to use players known for finesse rather than fists.

Belak was a healthy scratch for nine consecutive games but since he's been reinserted Toronto has seven of a possible eight points.

"I think it's perseverance maybe," he says of his staying power with the team. "I don't know, maybe most guys would have quit if they had scored that many goals in that long a time.

"It was nice that it happened (Tuesday) when we were able to get a win. I'd pretty much given up on scoring ever again for the Maple Leafs so it was nice. Usually, when you don't expect it, it comes."

His teammates celebrated on the bench as if they'd just won the seventh game of a playoff series.

"A lot of these guys haven't seen me score," he said, guessing that only about seven players were with the team last time he scored.

The 19,400 spectators almost lost their collective sanity screaming their support for one of the most popular Leafs.

"The stuff we do often goes unnoticed so it's always nice to get a goal because everybody notices goals," he said.

Belak scored 36 goals one novice season as a defenceman.

"I won the Esso MVP award, a big deal at the time," he recalled.

Every youngster who ever played road or pond hockey has pretended to be an NHL star, and Belak had a rather unusual role model.

"I was pretending to be Dave Manson," he explained. "That's probably why I don't score a lot of goals.

"Maybe I should have been pretending to be Gretzky."

He stopped scoring as he grew and grew and grew ...

"I started to get kind of awkward and wobbly - big-man syndrome, you know. I had to make due with the talent I had. I had to change my role. I was awkward for a long time, right up until junior. As I went through major junior, the goals diminished."

He was impressive enough on Saskatoon Blades blue-lines to be Quebec's first pick, 12th overall, in the 1994 entry draft. The team had moved to Denver by the time he scored his first NHL goal for the Colorado Avalanche skating on a line with Joe Sakic and Adam Deadmarsh.

"I assisted on the tying goal and I scored the game winner for my first goal," he recalled. "Then I got sent down two days later so it was pretty memorable."

He doesn't have so-called soft hands. Given all the fights he's been in on the ice, that's understandable.

"I've sprained my wrists so many times that they don't really rotate anymore so it's tough to stickhandle," he said.

He did score three times in 20 games with the Coventry Blaze in England during the 2004-2005 lockout. He even got one in overtime.

"That's the only OT winner I've scored," he said. "Probably the only time I've been on in overtime."

He said he won't approach coach Paul Maurice to lobby for more ice time now that he's a scoring machine.

"No, no," he said. "I should be talking to Fergie for a raise maybe, some kind of a bonus."

GM John Ferguson has him on a $625,000 contract.

Belak is a team guy. He doesn't get into a snit if he's a healthy scratch. That wouldn't be good for team morale, he said.

"There's nothing worse than seeing a guy moping because he's not playing, complaining all the time," he said. "I try to be positive and have fun and get ready for my chance when I do get in."

Most of his time away from the rink is devoted to his young family. The oldest of his two girls is three, and he recently bought her a pair of ice skates.

"She hasn't been on them yet," he said. "She wears them in the house."

Rangers pest Sean Avery is injured and won't play Thursday so Belak doesn't expect the bad blood between the teams to be stirred.

"I think it only involves one guy and he won't be playing. At least half the circus will be left at home."

That's Wade Belak: often lost near the net but never lost for words.



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