Two former Tri-City Americans are taking their hockey careers to the next level.
Defenseman Shawn Belle (2001-05) accepted an assistant coaching position with Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) earlier this week, while goalie Drew Owsley (2008-11) signed to play with the Wichita Thunder of the ECHL.
“I had to retire last year because of (knee) injuries,” Belle said. “I got into coaching, and it’s been a good fit so far. Accepting the NAIT job has been a step in the right direction.”
Belle, 31, was a highly decorated junior player. He led Team Canada to a silver medal at the 2004 World Junior Championship, and a gold medal the following year.
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The Edmonton, Alberta, native was chosen in the first round (30th overall) of the 2003 NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues. He spent 10 years playing professionally.
“Hockey always comes to an end at some point, whether it’s early like mine with injuries,” Belle said. “You have to prepare yourself with that to happen. I have been fortunate with the jobs I’ve landed. I had a good 10-year career. Every place I got to go, I absolutely loved.”
Belle played in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche. He also played more than 400 games in the American Hockey League (AHL), and played four seasons in Europe.
“I will try to pass my knowledge along,” Belle said. “A lot of these guys are impressionable. They want to know what you have done. It’s a ‘please don’t do what I have done.’ Make yourself better and take your career as far as you can.”
NAIT coach Tim Fragle said he is happy to have Belle on board.
“Shawn is an excellent hire for the program in many facets,” Fragle said in a news release. “He has a strong demeanor and will have a great rapport with all the student-athletes. Shawn’s professional hockey experience will be a valuable asset to the program, and I look forward to getting started with him.”
Former Tri-City goalie Shannon Szabados, who led the Canadian women’s hockey team to two Olympic gold medals, played two seasons (2011-13) for the NAIT men’s team. She also played for the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where Belle coached last season.
“She has left a legacy in Alberta,” Belle said. “We see each other every now and again.”
The same goes for some of his former Tri-City teammates.
“In the summer, I am a fitness coach, and I see Dylan (Stanley) every day,” Belle said. “I’m still really good friends with Tyler Weiman. I try to keep in touch with the guys as much as possible.”
Owsley, 25, just finished his career at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where the X-Men earned the silver medal at the CIS University Cup. He also graduated with a degree in accounting.
“I have the degree, but I’m not ready to hang it up yet,” Owsley said. “I want to get my CPA, but after four years of school, I want to take a personal year and play some hockey. We’ll see how it goes.”
A native of Lethbridge, Alberta, Owsley was named an Atlantic University Conference second-team All-Star two years in a row. His senior season, he went 16-8-0 in 24 starts, sporting a 2.54 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.
“I really enjoyed my time out there,” Owsley said of St. Francis Xavier. “It was a tough decision to go there — it’s pretty far from home — but I think I made the right one. Our team did really well the last couple of years. It was a fun time. I will miss it a bit.”
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Owsley said joining the Thunder was one of several post-university options he had.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of decisions to make this summer. I’m happy to finally make one and join Wichita.”
The Thunder are happy to have him.
“Drew has been a winner everywhere he’s played,” Wichita coach Malcolm Cameron said in a news release. “I saw him first-hand in the WHL, and knowing his university coach and people in that league say nothing has changed. We look toward to having Drew in a Thunder jersey this season.”
Like many former Tri-City players, the lure of Europe was there, but it’s not quite the right fit — yet.
“It’s tough to get a good deal over there,” Owsley said. “It just didn’t seem worth my while to go over there yet. I need to prove myself to get a better deal.”
With the Americans, Owsley was named the 2010 Western Conference finals MVP, finishing the playoffs with a 12-5 record, a 2.14 GAA and a .931 save percentage. The following season, he was 33-11-2 with a 2.51 GAA and a .918 save percentage as the Americans finished third in the U.S. Division before losing in the second round of the playoffs.
“I need to get back,” Owsley said of the Tri-Cities. “It’s been way too long. I do keep tabs on the guys I played with. It’s kind of cool to see what they are doing.”
Owsley reports to Wichita on Oct. 1.