By Len Bardsley
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Dan Belisle got his first sip of hockey success at the age of 10. He has been all over North America trying to satisfy his thirst since.
As general manager of the Boardwalk Bullies, Belisle is now in Atlantic City trying to ensure on-ice success spreads off the ice.
Belisle grew up hockey’s version of an Army brat, following his father, Dan Sr., from city to city with each new playing and coaching position; Vancouver, Jacksonville, Columbus, Des-Moines, Syracuse, Washington, Dallas and, finally, Detroit.
Dan Belisle Sr. is the director of pro scouting for the Red Wings, before that working as assistant coach for the Red Wings from 1982-87. Belisle has been a member of the Detroit organization for 22 seasons and has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup three times – 1997, 1998 and 2002.
Dan Belisle Sr. spent 14 seasons as a player with a vast minor-league career and a brief four-game stint in the NHL with the Rangers during the 1960-61 season.
Dan Belisle Jr. was born in 1963, when his father was splitting time between the San Francisco Seals and Vancouver Canucks of the old WHL before moving to the Baltimore Clippers of the American Hockey League.
It was Belisle Sr.’s first coaching position in Des Moines of the International Hockey League where father and son got to enjoy a championship together when the Capitols won the Turner Cup Championship during the 1973-74 season.
“It is not every day a 10-year-old kid gets to drink champagne out of a cup,” said Dan Jr. “I was pretty excited. The first thing my dad said was give him some champagne.’ “
One of Dan Jr.’s best memories was the time spent in Des Moines hanging out with an undersized forward by the name of Steve Coates, who is now the Flyers’ color commentator.
It was natural for Dan Jr. to follow his father, despite the circuitous path. Dan Jr. hopes to reach for the same rainbow, a job in the NHL and a member of a Stanley Cup-winning franchise.
“I pretty much have followed in his footsteps,” said Dan Jr. “The only difference between my father’s career is that I am working more on the business side and I don’t have three Stanley Cup rings. He spent a lot of years in the minor leagues. I hope I can say someday I followed his career when I get to the National Hockey League.”
Dan Sr. was a little reluctant when his son first got into coaching, guiding the Detroit Junior Red Wings in the North American Junior Hockey League. Dan Sr. had been through some tough times as head coach of the Washington Capitals when a 24-41-15 season was a 15-point improvement and then as an assistant with the Red Wings when they were known as the Dead Things.
“I coached in the minor leagues and the NHL and got fired (by the Capitals in 1980); that was the best break I ever got in my life,” said Dan Sr. “My career went up from there. I went to Detroit when the franchise was going into the Windsor river. I was fortunate to hang in there. It is a matter of patience and doing your job and being a little lucky. I think my son does the same thing. Hockey is a tough life;, you hang in there and battle and battle.”
With his father as an example it is easy to understand the Bullies general manager’s determination to keep the team in Atlantic City.
“It was always known I would get into hockey,” said Belisle. “My dad tried to dissuade me from doing it when I first started coaching. He said don’t coach, but later I found out he was glad I got into coaching. He is the first guy I call whenever I need advice. He is a great role model.”
Dan Sr. estimates the Belisle family moved about 20 times during his playing and coaching career. Dan Jr. was a hockey sponge, taking in all of the different hockey environments and situations and now is making the most of it.
“We do communicate on those type of things,” said Dan Sr. of his son’s situation in Atlantic City. “He watched me go through similar situations and it has helped him, but you have to be your own man. I am very proud of my son. He can handle adversity. He is in one right now. I know he will fight through it and do well.”
Belisle was anxious to squash the rumors of the Bullies possible move from Atlantic City to New Orleans next season. Belisle worked as general manager of the New Orleans Brass before coming to the Bullies and owner George Shinn also owns the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets.
The Brass ceased operations after the 2001-2002 season despite drawing an average of 4,385. The Brass were pushed out of New Orleans Arena when the Hornets moved from Charlotte.
“Is there a prospect of this team moving to New Orleans? No,” said Belisle. “For the same reason the Brass is not there now. There is no place to play. The ownership here is very committed to keeping the team in Atlantic City.”