Brian Bellows came into the OHL with great expectations.
He was the first overall pick by the Kitchener Rangers after scoring 50 goals and 130 points at the Junior B level in St. Catharines and, at 15-years-old, he was already being compared to another famous OHL graduate – Wayne Gretzky.
It was a tough billing for anyone to live up to, but Bellows did a pretty good job of it. He racked up 49 goals as an OHL rookie and led the Rangers to a berth in the 1981 Memorial Cup in Windsor.
After dropping their first two games of the tournament, the 16-year-old Bellows played like a veteran, scoring three times to give the Rangers an upset win over the defending champion Cornwall Royals.
“There was just no way a lot of us could go back to Kitchener and show our faces if we had lost this one,” Bellows admitted. “We were so embarrassed after we lost our first two games because we knew we were a better team than we had showed.”
The Rangers rallied from that performance and earned a trip to the championship game which they lost to the Royals. But Bellows regrouped his team the next season and led them back to the national championship tournament in Hull, Quebec.
Bellows scored four goals in four games leading up to the championship game, but he saved his best performance for his last game as a junior. The Rangers’ captain scored three goals and added a pair of assists that paced the Rangers to a 7-4 win over the QMJHL champion Sherbrooke Beavers to claim the Memorial Cup for the first time in Rangers franchise history.
“I felt I should have a big game today because it was my last game in junior – hopefully,” Bellows said after spraying his teammates with champagne. “Everything worked just super today. Last season was disappointing. But now we feel like we have accomplished something.”
Rangers’ coach Joe Crozier didn’t buy into the “next Gretzky” hype, but he challenged his captain and star player to raise his game to great levels on the national stage.
“This morning I told Brian that he’d have to go out and prove this thing,” Crozier said. “I think he did. He’s the best player in junior hockey.”
Bellows had solidified his stature as a blue chip NHL prospect and the upcoming NHL Draft was touted as the “Bellows Sweepstakes” by the media. The Boston Bruins had the first overall pick, but made a deal with the Minnesota North Stars for a pair of players to bypass Bellows and take defenceman Gord Kluzak of the WHL’s Billings Bighorns. That opened the door for the North Stars to take Bellows second overall.
“No matter what people say, you never know where you’re going to get picked,” Bellows admitted after the draft. “I’m happy to be going to Minnesota because it’s a fine organization and a team that’s going places.”
Bellows went on to score more than 1,000 points during an 18-year NHL career that included a decade with the North Stars. He hoisted the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 and his son Kieffer is now a forward in the New York Islanders organization.
Written by Aaron Bell