Louie Belpedio took part in his fourth Wild development camp at Xcel Energy Center earlier this month. The second-round pick of the club in the 2014 Draft, Belpedio will embark on his first full professional season this fall after graduating from Miami University in the spring.
As he preps for his first full season, it was a small taste of the game’s highest level that has him motivated for more.
In Minnesota’s season finale in San Jose last season, Belpedio earned his first game in the NHL, posting a pair of assists as the Wild won 6-3.
For the Wild, it was a game with nothing at stake in the standings; its spot in the Central Division was locked, as was its first-round playoff opponent.
And while the game may have been meaningless on paper, it couldn’t have been more important to Belpedio, the Skokie, Illinois native who had been called up to join the club two days earlier in Los Angeles.
“It’s been in my head all summer,” Belpedio said. “Every time I go to the gym, every time I step on the ice, it’s hard not to think about that. I want to do everything I can to be here in September and October and hopefully stay all year.”
After participating in what could be his final development camp, Belpedio also thought it was important to be a leader for those that may be closer to the beginning of their journey as NHL prospects.
A three-year captain at Miami who also wore the ‘C’ for Team USA at the World Junior Championships, Belpedio remembered his first development camp with the Wild, when he roomed with current Wild defenseman Matt Dumba.
It was an experience that has stuck with him through the years.
“Even when he wasn’t talking, just watching him and seeing what he does well and how he approached every day was something I can only hope to do for the guys here now,” Belpedio said. “I want to lead by example. I think that was important to me coming into camp this year.”
Belpedio was the only player at development camp who had reached the NHL and played in a game there. And while a glance at the Wild’s expected roster when it reconvenes in September for training camp may give some pause — at least in terms of making the big-league club — Belpedio’s goal of staying in Minnesota once the regular season begins is unchanged.
“If you ask any kid where he wants to be, it’s the NHL over the A[HL] any day,” Belpedio said. “It’s a job now. Obviously, you still want to have fun with it, but you’ve gotta take your training seriously, your diet seriously, your sleep seriously … whatever is going to give you that edge.”
Belpedio’s start in pro hockey was a little ragged. In 10 games with Iowa after wrapping up his senior season at Miami, Belpedio had two assists but was a minus-6.
There have rarely been concerns about Belpedio’s ability to fill up the boxscore; he scored nine goals and 30 points in 37 games in his final season with the Red Hawks.
He also posted impressive offensive numbers at both the midget and junior levels earlier in his development.
Perhaps part of the reason for the rough start with Iowa was the fact Belpedio was still finishing classes at Miami, putting the finishing touches on his college degree.
It was touch and go for awhile, but he figured it out. Belpedio eventually graduated and made his NHL debut all in the same month-span.
“I didn’t think I’d do it to be honest,” Belpedio said. “I’m happy about it. It’s something that sets me up for life after the game. It’s definitely something I can use, and hopefully it’ll get me a real job one day if I need it.”
The hope for both he and the Wild is that the only “real job” Belpedio has to worry about — at least for the next decade or so — revolves around him patrolling the club’s blue line.
“It’s the next level, it’s a step forward,” Belpedio said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just hockey. Obviously it took me awhile to get [to pro hockey], so I was excited and every day was something new for me. I just tried to stay in the moment and do what I do best, just try to take it in day-by day and learn and get better.”