Wade Belak was found dead in a Toronto hotel on Wednesday afternoon. He was 35.
The death has been confirmed by the Nashville Predators, Belak’s most recent NHL team before he announced his retirement at the end of the 2010-11 season.
Although the specific cause of Belak’s death remains unknown, the National Post has relayed some limited detail:
Officers from 52 Division responded to a call around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon and found a man dead on the scene. That man was identified as Belak. A police forensics unit was still on the scene late Wednesday afternoon, but foul play was not suspected.
Belak was recently announced as a participant in the upcoming season of CBC’s Battle of the Blades, and was set to be a contributor to the Predators broadcast team this year. The Predators issued a statement, saying that their “thoughts and prayers go out to [Belak's] wife Jennifer and children Andie and Alex.”
Already the fond memories of a player who had a permanent smile are streaming in. George Richards of the Miami Herald witnessed Belak drop his mitts during his brief stint in the sunny south. He recalled a moment during a tussle against Steve MacIntyre shortly after Belak was waived by the Panthers and landed in Nashville.
The punches Belak tossed were so heavy, he cracked MacIntyre’s helmet. Belak was such a good guy, MacIntyre had no trepidation in sending the helmet to Belak for an autograph.
Belak signed the helmet right above the gash that he left with his bare hands.
Richards unfortunately broke the news of Belak’s passing to Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos, who marveled at the Saskatchewan native’s generosity and commitment to the community.
“He was as friendly and nice a person as I have ever met. He would give you the shirt off his back. He did so much for kids and our community. He was wonderful. I’m shocked. I’m sad. I don’t know what to say. It’s a real shame. He’s the best.”
Belak was selected 12th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1994 draft, and was an enforcer who spent time with the Avalanche, Flames, Leafs, Panthers, and Predators over a 15-year career. He had eight goals, 33 points, and 1,263 penalty minutes over 549 games.