French players touched by support after Paris attacks

The Stars' Antoine Roussel wore a French flag on his helmet during Saturday's game. Glenn James/NHLI/Getty Images

Antoine Roussel and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had the only reaction one could imagine when they heard the news Friday of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

The NHL's only two players from France phoned their loved ones in Paris and were able to connect immediately.

"My parents were at their friends' house, which was about 15 minutes from the soccer stadium," Roussel said over the phone Monday.

"I phoned them right away and got lucky that I got them right away. I was relieved and lucky to get ahold of my family quickly. But all of it was shocking obviously."

Bellemare's sister, meanwhile, lives in Paris.

"First I talked to my mom who [was] on the way to see my sister," Bellemare said over the phone Monday. "Then I talked to my sister, she told me she was as far as possible from all these things going on. That relaxed me in a way. And as the hours went by, my friends said they were fine via Facebook. It settled you a bit, but then you're just shocked at the whole situation, you don't understand why it's happening."

It's been an emotional few days for both French players, the terrorist attacks killing at least 129 people in their home country, leaving them rattled to say the least.

"Personally, like everyone in France and in Paris, I'm shocked by the events," said the Philadelphia Flyers' Bellemare, who was born and raised in Paris. "But now a couple of days later, there's some anger into it, too. Now that you also see the pictures of the people that died in that massacre. It doesn't let your mind settle. It's been a tough time for France and for Paris. But it's united people big-time."

Both players have been touched by the way the NHL community has responded to last Friday's senseless tragedy in Paris. In rinks around the NHL on Saturday, there were tributes and, in some cases, the French national anthem was played before the game, including in Dallas where Roussel's Stars played Minnesota.

"I thought the NHL was world-class with how everyone reacted Saturday," said Roussel. "It was really done well in Dallas. I've felt a strong support everywhere. People here went through 9/11, they know what it's about. People have been really classy in the way they've reacted."

Bellemare's Flyers were playing in Carolina.

"My game felt so somehow unimportant that day," he said. "And then before the game, they played the 'Marseillaise' in Carolina, I mean, I thank them for it. It's a big mark of respect for our country. And just the support we got everywhere, all the different towns and capitals that flew French flags, it's unbelievable how we've all got united in this time.

"Everyone that I meet that knows I'm from France, has just given me support, I think it's unbelievable to be honest."

Roussel echoed that sentiment, saying the support has been all around him.

"Even in my [Dallas] neighborhood where I live, there are people who have added a French flag on their house," said Roussel. "That's really touched me."

Bellemare said he once saw a Germany-France soccer game years ago in the same national stadium outside of which terrorists detonated explosives last Friday.

"When I was living in Paris I wasn't living that far away from there," said Bellemare.

"I'm happy that those people were stopped from going inside the stadium otherwise it would have been an even bigger massacre, obviously."

The nightmarish events of last Friday served as an ugly reminder of the world we live in now.

"You're always thinking that these things happened elsewhere and that you're safe, but it's a real wake-up call," said Roussel. "We're not safe anywhere."

But when Bellemare, for one, returns to Paris this summer, he's sure that one of the greatest cities in the world will have relearned how to be itself.

"Paris is the City of Light," said Bellemare. "This [the attacks] has united us. I'm sure when I go back to Paris this summer, people will be living. We'll remember everything that happened, but we'll be living. It's a strong city."