Cold As The Cold Wind Blows
The arena lights up and the players fill their lockers while the zamboni cleans the ice. Training camp is upon us and with that, a new season. But there's an unfamiliar chill in the air. Three players are dead, but the show must go on and Wade Belak was all about the show. You could describe Belak as a funny, happy, nice, mean and tough guy and from the surface, it seems that you'd be right. Belak seemed to be enjoying his retirement after playing his last game just a season ago for the Predators. He seemed to be all booked up though, including an appearance on CBC's third season of Battle of the Blades and that's precisely why Belak was in Toronto. Unfortunately, tonight he is no longer with us. Multiple media outlets suggest that Belak was found dead earlier today in a Toronto hotel where it is believed that he took his own life. A sad day brings to an end what is likely to be the most tragic summer in NHL history.
It's easy to make the connection between the three deaths this summer. Boogard, Rypien and Belak were as tough as they get. All three were enforcers whose sole purpose on the ice was to physically punish the opposition, most of the time in one-on-one battles. And these three men were very good at their job. Boogard, 28 years old, found dead in his apartment, cause of death was alcohol and drugs. Rypien, 27 years old, found dead in his home, cause of death was suicide. Belak, 35 years old, found dead in a hotel, cause of death was suicide. All three enforcers, all three gone too soon. All a coincidence? Hardly.
Bob Probert ties all of this together. Probert, one of the game's great enforcers also died just over a year ago. He was 45 years old. Researchers found evidence of CTE in Probert's brain, a brain disease caused by concussions and other head injuries. Just over a year later we're left with four different players dead, all of which had similar roles on the ice.
Probert's death should have been the first and last. It wasn't and now the NHL is four deaths too late to the rescue. Forget about making the nets more shallow and let's start fixing this real problem. There is no longer a place for fighting in this game. For the most part these 'enforcers' fight because they have to. They'll do anything to be an NHL player and I'm sure most of us would to if it meant lacing them up for an NHL team. It's not up to the players though, it's up to the league to fix this, to eliminate this. Will it change the game? Sure it will, but if that means that Colton Orr and Milan Lucic live to see their grandchildren then that's what matters. Fighting isn't what it used to be anyways. I can understand a fight between two passionate players that have been battling each other all night and can no longer help themselves. But a senseless fight between two enforcers to try and somehow sway the momentum of a game is a waste of time and apparently life.
I can't claim to have known Wade Belak or to have met him, but he was a fan favourite among Leafs fans and for good reasons. He was A funny hockey player before twitter made hockey players funny. He was as sarcastic as they come, which made him great to watch in interviews.
If you want to read a great piece on this whole situation I would suggest this article by Bruce Arthur.
I'll leave you with this quote from a 2006 interview with Wade Belak from the Toronto Star, which was pointed out by Bruce Arthur on twitter. In the article, Paul Hunter asks the Wade Belak a final question.
"In 10 years I'll be..."
"Dead (laughs). No ... I’ll be, gawd, hopefully living out in Kelowna and making millions on developmental properties (laughs). Hopefully in 10 years I’ll still be playing in the NHL."
Rest In Peace.