S2E10 – The Mario Belanger Podcast Interview
In today’s show I interview former Durham Wasps, Basingstoke Beavers, Nottingham Panthers and Telford Tigers goal scoring forward Mario Belanger.
French Canadian Mario signed for the Durham Wasps as a replacement import in February 1987.
He joined a strong Durham team with imports Kevin Conway and Mike O’Connor plus quality Brits such as Paul Smith, Frankie Killen, Ivor Bennett and both the Johnson and Cooper Brothers.
We talk of the 1987 Wembley Championship Finals weekend, his hat trick in the 7 – 5 semi final win over the Fife Flyers
and then of the a 9 – 5 victory, in the championship final against the Murrayfield Racers.
The following season, after just 19 games, Mario, a fans favourite, shocked the club by deciding to quit the Wasps and return home to Canada – which earned him a 5 year ban from the British game.
He returned to the UK in 1992, with his UK ban now over, his former Durham team mate and now Basingstoke import, Kevin Conway, introduced him to coach Peter Woods who persuaded him to sign for his team.
The team surprised many people, finished nine points clear of title favourites Sheffield Steelers, to win the Heineken division one, they also won the division one playoff championship final and promotion to the Heineken Premier division through the playoff/relegation playoffs.
Fast forward 12 months and after a disappointing season with Basingstoke in the Premier division, Mario decided to return to Canada, hang up his skates and retire.
It was December 1994 and the Nottingham Panthers head coach, Mike Blaisdell, persuaded Mario to return to the UK and sign as a replacement for the departed Darren Schwartz.
Although the Panthers promised much, having led the league for most of the season, injuries and loss of form took it’s toll and again the League Championship eluded them.
Once again Mario was very tempted to hang up his skates but decided on one more season, this time with division one team, the Telford Tigers.
The team had invested heavily in bringing in quality players bringing in imports Claude Dumas, Rob Wilson, Rick Fera along with British players Dean Edmiston, Mark Pallister, Scot Plews, Simon Leach and Paddy O’Connor.
The team were hot favourites to win promotion to the Premier division and Tiger fans were starting to get excited.
Mario gelled well with Claude Dumas and both were scoring for fun.
However it simply wasn’t to be, by mid October coach Gary Douville had been sacked, in November Dean Edmiston and Simon Leach had departed to Newcastle, Scott Plews to Fife and Rob Wilson returned to his old club, the Sheffield Steelers.
More was to follow as Rick Fera finally arrived in Mid December, made his debut and after just three weeks decided to leave.
By the end of January the team had won just one game in the last ten and the Tigers decided to release Mario, togehter with D-Man Mark Pallister.
These days Mario, whose “day job” is now as a Police officer, remembers his UK adventure fondly, especially with Durham and that Wembley Playoff Championship victory.
He still retains his humour as when asked what he now does to stay fit replied “chasing criminals”
Thanks for the memories Mario and thanks too for all of those goals.
A big shoutout goes to the Great Britain Mens World Championship Ice Hockey team.
The team won promotion to group 1a with a playing record of played 5, won 5.
Next year, that’s 2018, they’ll take on Hungary, Italy, Kazakstan, Poland and Slovenia in Group 1a.
Very well done guys.
Shout out #2
Goes to Nottingham Panthers fan Chris Tate.Chris kindly donated his ice hockey magazine and programme collection to my ever expanding library.
This library is invaluable for researching the careers of guys I interview.
Thanks again Chris.
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