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Richmonder Michel Belhumeur was a part of the Capitals' inaugural (and forgettable) NHL season

Richmonder Michel Belhumeur was a part of the Capitals' inaugural (and forgettable) NHL season

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Former Richmond Robins goaltender Michel Belhumeur celebrated a Stanley Cup victory in Philadelphia in 1974. Months later, he landed on the expansion Washington Capitals, where he set an NHL record after playing in 35 games without a single victory. He went 0-24-3.

“It was tough going from the best to the worst overnight,” Belhumeur said recently. “It’s a lot easier to be a winner than a loser.”

The Capitals are now the winners, having won the Stanley Cup two years ago. They continue their playoff series against the New York Islanders on Friday night.

Despite his difficult time in Washington, Belhumeur said he doesn’t regret his stint with the Caps.

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “You can’t do but so much. You can’t stop 40 shots a night.”

That 1974-75 Capitals team was, to put it simply, awful. They went 8-67-5, including a 1-39 mark on the road. Their .131 winning percentage is the worst in NHL history. Washington expanded into the league with the Kansas City Scouts, now the New Jersey Devils. The Scouts struggled, but they still finished 20 points ahead of the Capitals.

Washington was a mismanaged mess. Coach Jim Anderson only lasted 54 games before being replaced. Red Sullivan became the next coach and lasted 19 games, forcing general manager Milt Schmidt to be the coach for the remainder of the disastrous inaugural campaign.

Belhumeur was one of three goaltenders to play for Washington in the expansion season. He had the second-most playing time and, ironically, had the best goals against average with 5.37 and save percentage with .861. In his next, and final, season in Washington, he went 0-5-1 in seven games.

The Flyers left Belhumeur exposed at the 1974 expansion draft, allowing the Capitals to select him fourth overall.

“When I got picked out of the expansion draft, which meant I wasn’t the best goaltender but was one of the best not protected, that was good,” he said.

Before his tenure in the nation’s capital, Belhumeur was selected 40th by the Philadelphia Flyers at the 1969 draft.

He practiced with the Flyers as an extra goaltender during the 1973-74 season, the season the Flyers won their first Stanley Cup in the iconic “Broad Street Bullies” era. He even appeared in a playoff game for the Flyers during the 1973 playoffs.

“I loved Philadelphia,” he said. “Everyone was fun. Everyone was enjoying it.”

He played a total of 23 games in the regular season for Philadelphia. He had a .903 save percentage and 3.23 goals against average, with a record of 9-7-3.

He then went to Washington for two seasons before signing with the Atlanta Flames in the 1976 offseason. Belhumeur earned some notable distinctions in the NHL. With the Capitals, he recorded the franchise’s first-ever assist by a goaltender.

He also is tied for the most penalty shot stops in a game with two, an honor he earned after stopping both Jim Pappin and Hall of Famer Stan Mikita in 1974. That night he made 39 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Blackhawks. He kept Washington in the fight despite being outshot 42-12 in the contest. The large shot count was normal for Belhumeur, who set the Capitals franchise record for shots faced in a game less than two months later after facing 60 shots against the Blues.

Belhumeur faced some of the league’s best ever in the NHL, names like Mikita and Bobby Orr, but the biggest threat then was the Montreal Canadiens.

“They had [Guy] Lafleur. They weren’t that big, but they were fast,” he said. “When you went there you knew you were going to get a lot of shots.”

Belhumeur spent most of his pro career in the minors, including four seasons with the Richmond Robins of the American Hockey League. He was named to the AHL Second All-Star Team during the 1971-72 season.

“The Robins were good. The first year I played here I won [team] MVP,” he said. “I love Richmond.”

Despite being from Sorel, Quebec, known as the hometown of Golden Knights goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury, Belhumeur returned to and still resides in Richmond where he came after he retired in 1979.

“My kids were born here,” he said. “I’ve been here so long I don’t want to go anywhere else. I certainly don’t want to go back to Canada.

“Too cold, too much snow.”

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