ELMIRA, N.Y. - In a developmental league where turnover is a regular occurrence players aren’t accustomed to staying in one place for very long. The Jackals, however, have been fortunate to have a core group of players stay with the team since 2011. Rob Bellamy and Jordan Pietrus are prominent names now when it comes to the Jackals lineup, but it wasn’t always that way.
Both players came to Elmira under different circumstances; Pietrus after being cut from the Trenton Titans six games into the 2011-12 season and Bellamy came back to Elmira after being released by the team a month before. Now both players have surpassed expectations to become two of the top veterans on the team, and the longest tenured ECHL-era players the Jackals have seen.
Bellamy came to Elmira after his most productive offensive season of his career with the Nottingham Panthers of the Elite Ice Hockey League in the United Kingdom. For the Panthers he netted 22 goals and 32 assists for 54 points in 44 games before returning state side. He signed a contract with the Jackals on September 22, 2011 before being released during training camp on October 14.
“I don't really know why I was released to be honest. I knew I belonged here and it was a very confusing time for me.”
The tides changed for the fourth year pro when the Jackals resigned Bellamy on November 1, 2011. He did not disappoint with 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) with a season high five-game point streak stretching from November 25 to December 3.
“I just wanted to play hockey, so I came back and it ended up being a great year for me. I'm glad I made the decision.”
His hard work and dedication to the team did not go unnoticed in the locker room as he was named the Jackals’ Most Popular Player.
Pietrus, a second year pro at the time, needed eight days following his release from the Titans to figure out his fate in hockey before the Jackals signed him to a standard player contract.
“Getting released from Trenton was very difficult. The eight days between Trenton and Elmira were extremely uncertain and stressful. Not knowing if I would get picked up, and if so, where I would land was tough. I was questioning a great deal during those eight days and was forced to really rely on my faith, my family, my friends and my mentors. Ultimately I think this experience helped me grow as a player, but more importantly I learned a lot about myself during this process and was able to use the experience as an opportunity to grow in other areas of my life.”
The 5-foot-10 185-pound forward flourished in Elmira. He more than doubled his points to 39 in comparison to the 14 he acquired while in South Carolina the previous season.
“When I first arrived in Elmira I was just hoping to stick with the team, and find my niche. I was given an opportunity to do that in my first year here. We had a veteran team and a ton of talent so I was able to learn a lot that year and grow.”
In 53 games Pietrus racked up the points with 12 goals and 27 assists - his career high in both categories up until that point in his career – earning ECHL Player of the Week for the week of January 16 to January 22, 2012 with six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in two games.
Like Bellamy, Pietrus’ hard work and dedication to the team didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates or the fans. In the locker room he was awarded the Jackals’ Community Service Award and was named Co-nsung Hero, while he was a finalist for ECHL Man of the Year which recognizes a player for his outstanding community service and sportsmanship both on, and off, the ice.
After the uncertainty of having a career in hockey, both Bellamy and Pietrus, re-signed with the Jackals for a second season and were the only two players to play in every game during the 2012-13 season. In their first full season as Jackals both forwards improved their numbers; Bellamy set a career high for points in a game with two goals and three assists March 20, 2013 versus Trenton and Pietrus set career highs in goals(21), assists (38), points (59), penalty minutes (89), and plus/minus (+17).
When asked if they ever foresaw themselves playing for the same team for more than a season Pietrus said, “Coming to Elmira for the first time, there was a ton of uncertainty for me. I had no idea if I would be here for three days or three years. Now in my third year here I am much more comfortable; comfortable with the town, the organization, my teammates and the league.”
Bellamy echoed that he didn’t look that far in the future. “Elmira has been good to me. It's been an organization that has given me the opportunity to play and I've created good friendships within the community.”
Now heading into the second half of their third season as Jackals, the veteran players both have played in all thirty games thus far this season and combined for 37 points. Along the way they have rewritten a passage in the Jackals’ ECHL-era record book. Bellamy played in his 161st game as a Jackal on December 28 at Greenville and surpassed Chaz Johnson’s previous record of 160. Pietrus matched the feat on January 4 and sits just five games behind Bellamy for the all-time record. However, neither player is likely to catch Ed Lowe who holds Elmira’s overall games played record at 413.
Looking towards the second half of the season, Bellamy said, “I just want us to keep moving forward and keep a positive attitude. We have gone through a couple tough stretches and the make-up of our team keeps changing in terms of personnel. But we have to stay the course and get the new players to buy in to how we want to play.”
Pietrus parallels Bellamy in keeping a positive attitude he adds. “Our focus each day is on winning our next game. We understand to accomplish our big goals [winning the Kelly Cup] we have to start with the challenge right in front of us.”