Death of beloved former Maple Leaf Wade Belak prompts discussion about the toll being the tough guy can take

Death of beloved former Maple Leaf Wade Belak prompts discussion about the toll being the tough guy can take

RIP Wade Belak (Image: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

In more ways than one, it has been a sad summer for hockey fans. With news of the untimely death of former Toronto Maple Leaf Wade Belak in a Toronto hotel—he was in town to be a contestant on CBC’s Battle of the Blades—the summer death tally of young former professional hockey players rises to a shocking three. We’ve said here before that in the news business, two is a coincidence and three is a trend, and given that all three players who passed away this summer were former NHL enforcers, there’s reason to wonder if Belak’s death, like those of Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien, who died in May and August, respectively, is somehow tied to the years he spent duking it out on the ice.

The National Post’s Bruce Arthur for more:

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.

News of a young person dying is always sad, but especially so after reading that, by all accounts, Belak was a wonderful person. Belak joked with the Toronto Star in 2006 that he’d be dead in 10 years, but nobody—including Belak, it seems—believed that prediction would actually come true. Which makes Arthur’s message that some serious questions needed to be asked seem even more urgent.

“The sweetest, most gentle guy ever,” former Leaf Belak commits suicide [Toronto Star]
Belak at his best in interview with Star in 2006 [Toronto Star]
Belak death an end to a wretched summer [National Post]
Ex-NHL enforcer Wade Belak remembered as upbeat, loud and fun [Globe and Mail]
What is “The Code”? [CBC]