An overwhelming number of great tributes to the life and career of Wade Belak have popped up across the hockey media sphere. While we continue to try and understand why a vibrant 35-year old man would leave us so soon, we’ve assembled a roundup of just a sampling of the tear inducing and thought provoking pieces on the life of Belak:
Adrian Dater, All Things Avs:
I always shared something of a kinship with Belak personally; we were both tall red-headed guys who looked a lot alike (at least in my younger days). In fact, I used to get mistaken for Belak all the time, and truth be told, I even signed a few autographs as him because the fans absolutely refused to believe I wasn’t him and I did it just to get them off of me. We laughed about that a lot, too.
I’m sorry that apparently I won’t be able to share any more laughs with Wade Belak, may he rest in peace.
Navin Vaswani, Sports and the City:
Wade Belak was only 35-years-old. Boogard and Rypien, even younger. I can’t help but think about how young they were, over and over and over again. There’s something about these three men dying that’s left me cold, that’s taken away from the invincibility of a professional athlete, the guy who’s “living the dream,” even the enforcer. Even though I know, to begin with, that the invincible pro athlete doesn’t exist, that he’s a construct, a product of television, and the Internet, and a vicious news cycle. These guys, they’re just like us. Sometimes they’re not happy. Sometimes they hate their job. Sometimes they drink to ease the pain. Sometimes they’re so fucking afraid of the future, they’d rather not even face it. The deaths of Belak, Boogard, and Rypien have taken away from the innocence of hockey, and of sport. The game’s supposed to give, not take away. Enough.
Bruce Arthur, National Post:
So while Rypien was afflicted with deep depression, and Boogaard was on painkillers, we don’t know why Wade Belak died. Not yet. Maybe never. We just know that there aren’t an awful lot of 40-goal scorers or puck-moving defencemen dying young, and that the men whose role it is to fight in the NHL are starting to vanish like professional wrestlers. This shouldn’t be a political issue in the sport; it should be a human one. And at some point, some deadly serious questions have to be asked about the role of enforcers in hockey, if only to understand why these men are gone too soon. This has been an unspeakable summer, which is exactly why it needs to be talked about.
Cathal Kelly, Toronto Star:
We don’t yet know the extent of Belak’s personal demons. He hid them too well.
Belak was 35 years old. He had just retired. He’d laid out the groundwork for a rich professional life after his playing days. He was going to star on Battle of the Blades. He had radio and TV gigs in Nashville — the Predators were his final professional stop.
Few Leafs in recent history were so affable and telegenic; few so clearly relished talking not just about the game, but about anything.
Often we speak about the darkness that enveloped a man before the end. Belak gave off a glow.
Above all, that is what should terrify the NHL.
Scotty Wazz, The Strangest One of All:
While people are quick to jump on sides and try to play armchair commissioner; it’s not that easy. People can clamor for change as much as they want, but by all knowledge; Belak didn’t have any known cases of depression nor concussions (according to him, at least). He was a character and always seemed to be a happy-go-lucky guy. The world is less without him on it anymore.
Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy:
Wade Belak was the reason I watch the NHL.
Not Wade specifically, but players like Wade. He embodied the rough stuff that first drew me to the game: The fights and fighters and the warrior code that went with them.
He embodied the unpredictable nature of the game: How loud did the arena get when Belak — career shooting percentage of 3.8 percent — scored any of his eight career goals?
He embodied what it meant to be a fan favorite, from his mischievous charisma — remember when he said he wouldn’t piss on Sean Avery if he were on fire? — to his interaction with the paying customers. He was a player who averaged 7 minutes and 18 seconds a game in his 549 career appearances, but damn if you couldn’t locate him from the cheap seats every time he hit the ice.
We love hockey because of its character. We also love it because of its characters.
George Richards, On Frozen Pond:
One of my favorite stories came after Belak had been traded to Nashville and he sparred with the Panthers Steve MacIntyre. The punches Belak tossed were so heavy they 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 he left with his bare hands.
The hockey world has lost another member this sad summer – Wade Belak. This one hit hard as he was a Maple Leaf and I actually had an encounter with Belak in downtown Toronto. He wasn’t a Leaf at the time after being traded to Florida, and we let him know he was greatly missed in Toronto (the Leafs were pretty soft at the time and Don Cherry agrees). Wade said that he missed Toronto and shook our hands with his big mitts before taking off from the stool he was sitting on – which we immediately sat on to say we’ve sat on the same stool as Wade Belak. A fan favourite on the ice for his role as an enforcer, Belak could also bring the fans to their feet with his rare goals.
Chris Burton, On The Forecheck:
Wade Belak was an integral member of the organization and will be horribly missed. He was approachable in the locker room, active in the community, and l doubt you’ll ever find a funnier NHL player. “Beeler” had provided color commentary on multiple radio broadcasts with Tom Callahan, and was set to begin his own radio show on 102.5 the Game.
He leaves behind a wife and two daughters.
Rest in peace, Wade.