With degree in hand, Wild prospect Louie Belpedio sets sights on NHL career
ST. PAUL — Wild prospect Louie Belpedio had the chance to turn pro a couple of times during his time as a college student at Miami (Ohio). He was a standout on the blue line for the Redhawks, an impact player as an underclassman who continued to develop.
But Belpedio promised his parents before he left for school that he'd get his college degree no matter what.
"It was tough. It's almost impossible to keep (pro hockey) out of my head," said Belpedio, who finally signed his entry-level contract with the Wild last season. "It was definitely worth the wait."
A third-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the 22-year-old Belpedio joked that earning his degree came with "a lot of close calls" because he's "not the brightest guy in the world" when it comes to school.
"That piece of paper has my name on it, though, and nobody can ever take that away," he said with a boisterous laugh. "I didn't think I'd do it to be honest. ... 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."
Belpedio hopes he doesn't have to think about getting "a real job" for quite some time. He got a taste of the NHL last season and performed well in his only game, recording a pair of assists in a victory over the San Jose Sharks.
"I think I played pretty well," Belpedio said, adding that he also learned a lot as one of the team's "Black Aces" during the playoffs. "I was lucky enough to make it last season. That said, my end goal isn't just playing in one game; I've got to keep going."
Belpedio is back at Wild development camp this week, and as the only player with any sort of NHL experience, he has become the de facto veteran of the group.
"There are still a lot of familiar faces," he said. "I had some pretty big-name guys leading the way for me when I was younger, and the only thing I can hope for is to be that guy for some of the new faces."
It's not completely out of the question for Belpedio to crack the NHL roster out of training camp, although it seems unlikely at this point. He's buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba, Jonas Brodin, Nick Seeler, the newly signed Greg Pateryn, and of course, the ageless Nate Prosser.
In order to make the team, Belpedio would have to prove he's a better option than one of those veterans.
"As anybody would say, hopefully I don't have to spend time (in the minors)," Belpedio said. "I've just got to keep that same mentality and work hard and do whatever I can do to make the team out of training camp. ... That's what the goal has been for me.
"If I do (end up in the minors), it's just another opportunity to get better and I'll take it day by day."
Belpedio played 10 games for the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League (AHL) last season, so if that's where he ends up, he has a familiarity with the team. That said, he has made it clear that after getting a taste of the NHL last season, he has no plans to play anywhere else.
"That first game is something I'll never forget," he said. "I feel like I belong here, and hopefully I can keep that mentality going into training camp and leave another good impression."