Belpedio's commitment to pay off at draft

Louis Belpedio liked football and loved hockey growing up.

That wouldn’t be a problem for most Chicago-area teenagers. They would pick a high school that offered both sports and everything would be just fine.

For Belpedio, who grew up in Skokie, Illinois, it wasn’t so simple.

He already had shown some promise as a defenseman in hockey. And to give his dream of someday playing in the NHL a real chance, the best option was the most difficult one. He had to leave home, forego joining all his neighborhood friends at the same high school, put an end to his football career and dedicate himself to hockey.

Belpedio chose that path and is expected to be rewarded for it on Friday or Saturday during the NHL draft. He is projected to be selected as early as the second round this weekend in Philadelphia.

“I was either going to go to Niles West [High School] or Fenwick,” Belpedio said recently after training at the Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Illinois. “If I played high school hockey, I would have played football, as well. Sometimes I miss it. I miss football when I watch it. I’m happy with my decision. I love hockey.

“As a 14-year-old kid, moving away wasn’t the easiest thing. Once I got used to that, I had no regrets about it. It was hard the first month or so. It’s something you got to do if you want to move on to the next level.”

Belpedio opted to move out of state and attend Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. He had access to an ice rink whenever he wanted and utilized it by dedicating himself to his game. After two years at Culver, he earned a spot in the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and has spent the past two years developing his game there. He is committed to Miami (Ohio).

Belpedio helped his draft stock by playing well and showcasing his versatile game for the United States in the Under-18 World Junior Championship in Finland in April. He had two assists and was a plus-3 in seven games. ESPN NHL Draft and Prospects analyst Corey Pronman has him ranked No. 59 among available draft prospects.

Belpedio will attend the draft at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Friday and Saturday. He’s tried not to allow his mind to wander to what it would be like to have his named called at the draft, but he’s failed to do so.

“I actually think about it a lot,” said Belpedio, whose family adviser is Chicago-based Pete Rutili. “As much as I try not to, it’s hard not to think about it. That’s a dream to get drafted, but the overall goal is to play in the NHL and not just get drafted. That’s just the beginning of a long road.”

If Belpedio could write his own script, he would not only get drafted but would get taken by his favorite team, the Chicago Blackhawks. He is quite aware Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has selected a number of Chicago-area players. In the past three drafts, Bowman has drafted Ryan Hartman, Anthony Louis, Vincent Hinostroza and Alex Broadhurst, who all grew up in the Chicago area.

“That would be great to get drafted, you know, hometown kid,” said Belpedio, who has attended Blackhawks games throughout his life. “I think a lot of kids think about that when it comes their time to get drafted. I definitely thought about it. I would be happy to get my name called at all.”