Erick Belanger began playing hockey at the age of five in his hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia. Following in his older brothers Justin and Marc’s footsteps, he played hockey in Nanaimo throughout his childhood until he was a young adult.
Belanger began as a minor hockey player with the Nanaimo Minor Hockey Association Clippers and moved up through the ranks to the top tier of hockey in the city when he played with the Nanaimo Clippers Junior A hockey club. After playing four seasons with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Clippers, Belanger saw his illustrious hockey career in Nanaimo come to an end.
Throughout his time with the Clippers, Belanger worked his way up from a young defenseman earning to little to no ice time, to a full-time leader on his hometown team. In 2004, Belanger, as a 17 year-old, was a part of the Doyle Cup Championship team and then in 2007 he led the Clippers to another BCHL Championship as a league all-star for the first time.
“I found that playing in one of the top leagues in Canadian Junior hockey well prepared me for what college hockey had in store,” said Belanger of his time in the BCHL.
Belanger, after playing out his time with the Clippers had a decision to make: stay in Nanaimo and go to school or look elsewhere and continue his pursuit of a career in hockey. Being the competitor that he is, Belanger chose the best of both worlds and decided to make his way down south and play for the Ohio State Buckeyes while attending Ohio State University in Columbus.
The change in scenery was not something that Belanger feared; hockey is hockey after all. But what the 6 foot, 200 pound native of Nanaimo did not expect was the level of fan support he would receive playing hockey in the States.
“When I first arrived last year as a freshmen it was quite overwhelming to play in front of such a large number of fans,” he said. “The fan base at Ohio State University is actually quite good, [but] in relation to other sports (football and basketball) it doesn’t compare at all.”
What else was a surprise to Belanger was how quickly foes can become friends when you are in a new environment.
“It is actually one of the funny things about hockey how guys you once considered [as] enemies and tried to hurt at any chance, eventually end up being your good friends and teammates,” said Belanger when speaking of his new teammate Hunter Bishop.
Bishop, who played with North Dakota before joining the Buckeyes this season, played for the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers when Erick played for the Clippers. The two teams battled several times throughout both the now Buckeyes’ BCHL careers. “Bishop and I have briefly talked about our championship battle against each other but it’s more about the season upon us than the past rivalry.”
The Buckeyes, in addition to Bishop and Belanger, ice three more BCHL graduates this season. The league is different for those new to the college game and so is the game itself.
“It took a bit of [time] to adjust to the tempo of the game and quick transition style of play,” recalled Belanger, who, along with Hunter Bishop, is now in his second year with the Buckeyes.
But as difficult as it may have been to adjust to the college game, Belanger did not have much time in his freshman year with the Buckeyes to do so. Hammer, as he was once called because of his middle name, only suited up in six out of Ohio’s 41 games, a stark difference from the 60 he played with the Clippers the year before.
“It was difficult to sit in the stands and watch especially through the end of the season and into playoffs,” said Belanger when reflecting upon his freshman season with the Buckeyes.
Heading into his sophomore season with Ohio State, Belanger’s goals are similar to those he had in his second season with the Clippers.
“I’m looking to participate in as many games as possible and to be successful not only individually but [to also] assist my teammates,” he said, when looking ahead to the 2008-009 campaign.
The Buckeyes undoubtedly know of Belanger’s winning past and more than likely will look to Erick as a leader this season and in years to come. And Belanger welcomes that challenge, with only one end in mind: “winning a CCHA championship title and taking down the nation’s best at the Frozen Four (National Championships).”
After a freshman season that rang all too familiar with Belanger, the defenseman from Nanaimo – who has battled severe injuries, limited ice-time and tough decisions through his career but is mature beyond his years – continues to stay positive and strives for the best.
“I knew coming into college that it would be a bonus to play regularly in my first year and its a long four years to make a name for not only the hockey program at Ohio State but also a name for myself to extend my hockey career.”
And as his career moves forward, Belanger – like he did with the Clippers – will likely receive more ice-time and garner more attention with every game and season that passes; a trend that will only help him reach his ultimate goal of continuing to play hockey.
“I can only hope of having a successful college hockey career [that] will propel me into the ECHL or AHL. I’ve also thought of exploring overseas to see what type of hockey Europe has to offer.”
U.S. College hockey has become more and more of a popular choice with BCHL graduates as college players like Kevin Bieksa, Mason Raymond (Vancouver) and Zach Parise (New Jersey) have made their way to the NHL after successful college careers.
But if its not the NHL where Belanger lands after his time in the U.S. college hockey system, you can bet that no matter where he does end up, his history of enduring and achieving success will shine through.
Wherever Belanger ends up, whether it is playing hockey in the ECHL, AHL or in Europe or not playing hockey at all, Belanger will always hold the BCHL near and dear to him.
“I will always cherish my time in the BCHL,” reflected Belanger, “The friends I’ve made through playing in the BCHL will live on forever, and I consider [them] almost like brothers.”