Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Martin Krantz on 09/01/11 at 08:30 AM ET
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.
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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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