LAS VEGAS – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, the happy-go-lucky Frenchman who became one of the Flyers' most popular players during his three seasons with the team, admitted he had mixed emotions when the Vegas Golden Knights selected him in the expansion draft in June.
Bellemare had just purchased a house in Old City. He loved everything about Philadelphia, and had been named one of the Flyers' alternate captains.
Eight months later, Bellemare could not be happier.
The Golden Knights, whose players have bonded closely because they felt like outcasts, have become the city's darlings and they are writing one of the greatest stories in NHL history. Stunningly, the first-year team has the Western Conference's best record and is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
To top that off, Bellemare and his wife, Hannah, are first-time parents. Their son, Leandre Lian, was born last month.
"Life," the 32-year-old center said before Vegas hosted the Flyers on Sunday night, "could not be better."
The Golden Knights, led by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, are a mixture of veterans and young players who have blossomed quicker than anyone could have expected.
"The players they chose were a bunch of character guys," Bellemare, who met with the Flyers' fan club in Vegas on Saturday, said in his thick French accent. "When we got together for our first meeting, we talked about being misfits, that we were in Vegas because other teams didn't want us, so we kind of had common ground. So, right from the start, we had a team feeling."
Bellemare said when he arrived with the Flyers in 2014-15, there were already many veterans on the team and that he made an effort "to meet every guy and tell my story and have the guys kind of know what kind of person I was. When I came to Vegas, we had 50 players in camp and we all had to learn about each other. Try to understand each guy's life and learn about his family. None of us had a clue about each other."
That has made the Knights become a tighter group, on and off the ice, said Bellemare, who has five goals and is one of Vegas' top penalty killers.
Most of the players live near the team's new practice rink in Summerlin, which is 15 miles from downtown Vegas and a "great area to raise a family," Bellemare said.
As for leaving the Flyers, Bellemare said "it was bittersweet for me. I've never been a guy who scores 70 points. I was working with the tools I had to help Philly as much as I could. Because of the way I play, I had some decent success in Philly. Just worked hard….on a team with a lot of stars, and when I got an 'A' on my jersey, I got rewarded big-time and my confidence got boosted up. So I bought a house, I have an 'A' on my jersey and then here comes Vegas and I got picked. I was excited because you know the possibilities there."
The Golden Knights, and Bellemare, have turned those possibilities into a reality that is difficult to believe.