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Former Av Wade Belak passes away.

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Wade Belak was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques as the 12th overall pick in the 1994 draft. Although he only played 35 games over three seasons before being traded to the Calgary Flames (in the Theoren Fleury trade), he is still missed and mourned today. I think we’ll start this blog post with a short piece about his career, before getting more personal after the break.

Belak, as mentioned, played only 35 games with the Avs before being traded. He spent much of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs before being traded to the Florida Panthers in 2008. Not famous for his goal-scoring ability (he had 8 goals in 549 career games), he was known and loved by the fans as a funnyman who gave it his all on the ice and had a wry humor off the ice. He joked about being “the next best thing” when he was traded and Mats Sundin wasn’t in 2008, and during a particularly long goal-scoring drought with the Maple Leafs, he joked that he was doing it on purpose. During the lockout season he played with Coventry Blaze in the British Elite Ice Hockey League and was an instant fan-favourite.

Join me after the break for a more personal take on this tragedy.

A couple of years ago, I lost my best friend to a brain aneurysm. A fellow comedian, this was a large, burly man with a booming laugh and a beard which could be home to several bird families without them even having to run into eachother. He was a former soldier, participating in the Kosovo war, his service ending after a grenade was thrown into the small building where he and fellow soldiers were sitting. One of them threw himself on the grenade, allowing my friend to get away with some horrible injuries, including being blinded on one eye and deaf on one ear. Thanks to a fantastic medical team, he didn’t look disfigured or anything, but if you knew of his part, you knew what a tough life he had lived.

After he came back from the war, he told me that he spent the first time home sleeping on the floor next to his dad’s bed, clutching his father’s hand in his sleep.

When I met him in 2005, he was a happy family man with a cute daughter. You immediately knew he’d be a good comedian, because he had a great sense of humor, and whenever he walked into a room, he became the center of attention without even trying. He studied to become a nurse, but was always more of a teacher to me, who was 15 years younger. My favourite memory is the time he started crying when watching his daughter and niece playing in the garden. He told me there’s nothing wrong with crying - it’s just a heart too full of emotions, the cup running over, so you have to let it out in any way you can, either by laughing or crying.

Easter, 2009. My good friend has just been to easter dinner with his family. He comes home, posts a short update on his facebook page about how happy he is and what a great day he had, and lies down on the sofa for a nap. He never wakes up. His 13-year old daughter comes home and finds him.

His funeral is one of the most haunting memories of my life. Performed in a completely different language, there was no mistaking the grief in his mother’s voice as she screamed out her pain while reciting a poem as the casket was being lowered into the ground. To complement her wails, a man was playing a saxophone by the grave. Not an eye was dry at the time, and it can still make my eyes well up just thinking about it.

What I want you to take away from this blog post is this, my friends. I don’t really care about the debate over enforcers quality of life and if this is related to his hockey career. I’m not a fan of fighting in the NHL and I would like to see it removed from the game. But that’s not important today. I also don’t care if Wade Belak commited suicide because he couldn’t find a place outside of hockey after his retirement and the NHLPA didn’t do enough to prepare him for a life outside of hockey. All of those questions can and willl be discussed during the next couple of days.

At this time, this is all about his wife Jennifer and his daughters, Andie Marie and Alex Grace, 7 and 5 years old.

Today is a day for friends and family. Friends who have lost a friend. And a family who has lost a son. A husband. A cousin. An uncle. A father.

And it’s a day for mourning, because the world has just lost another heart that was overflowing.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Martin Krantz, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: wade+belak

Comments

Avatar

Beautiful post.  You are right.  It’s all about who we are to those who love us.  Thinking of his family right now.

Posted by Mer on 09/01/11 at 11:23 AM ET

Ian Gooding's avatar

Very well spoken, Martin. Thank you for sharing this.

Posted by Ian Gooding on 09/01/11 at 11:42 AM ET

bezukov's avatar

I heard about what happened via Mike Commodore’s twitter.  Too many deaths in hockey this year.  Sad to hear.

Posted by bezukov from the kids are alright. on 09/01/11 at 12:46 PM ET

CaptainDennisPolonich's avatar

AP is reporting that he hung himself. That makes it even worse for his wife and children to come to terms with.

Posted by CaptainDennisPolonich from The Land of Fake Boobs and Real Nuts on 09/01/11 at 04:22 PM ET

Martin Krantz's avatar

Yeah, I heard about the hanging. Out of respect I decided to leave it out of the article.

Also, I’m kind of pissed at the Avs media department right now. Instead of releasing an article with their condolences, they focus on their new CHL affiliate, The Allen Americans. Geez, is it too much to ask for even a simple facebook update from the official Avalanche page about Belak?

Posted by Martin Krantz on 09/01/11 at 04:55 PM ET

CaptainDennisPolonich's avatar

Yeah, I heard about the hanging. Out of respect I decided to leave it out of the article.

This is an example of the type of attitudes that needs to change. Mental illness is no different, no less serious, and no less dangerous than physical illness. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Trying to cover up the fact that someone with mental illness killed themself exacerbates this problem.

Every time a tragic event like this (or Dave Duerson) occurs, or a positive event like Oscar de la Hoya acknowledging suicidal thoughts, it is an opportunity for people in the media, like yourself, to educate the public about mental illness. Hopefully, in the future, there will be more stories like Oscar de la Hoya and fewer like Wade Belak Dave Duerson.

Posted by CaptainDennisPolonich from The Land of Fake Boobs and Real Nuts on 09/01/11 at 05:20 PM ET

Martin Krantz's avatar

I disagree, Dennis.

Not with what you’re saying of course - I couldn’t agree more. Mental illness isn’t something to hide nor be ashamed of. I think every single one of us has either suffered through a depression or have relatives and friends who have fought it, and I definitely don’t want to hide it.

If you notice, the article does mention that Belak commited suicide. Granted, I included it in a slightly vague way as I go back and read it, but that’s more of an editing mistake where I deleted a part about Belak having chosen to end his life, and forgot putting in clearly enough that it was a suicide. Now it’s sort of a tag-on in the article, which wasn’t my intention.

However, what I meant with “out of respect” is that I decided to leave out the manner in which he chose to end his life. The hanging part. Not the suicide part.

I was very sorry to hear that Richard Jeni, the comedian, had committed suicide a couple of years back. Did the story change when I read that he had put a gun in his mouth and blown his head off? No, it just made it gross and made it seem like the article wanted to play up the gory details.

That’s why I don’t mind talking about his suicide, but I also felt that out of respect for him, I didn’t want to go into the details of how he chose to end his life. Should it really matter if he gassed himself, shot himself or hung himself? In the end, he lost the battle against depression and decided to end his own life, and that’s what really matters.

I hope you understand where I’m coming from on this and that it clears up the issue.

Posted by Martin Krantz on 09/01/11 at 06:04 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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