Last week former Predators left wing Wade Belak became the third NHL enforcer to be found dead in less than four months. In May the Rangers' Derek Boogaard, 28, was killed by an accidental overdose of alcohol and the prescription painkiller oxycodone, and on Aug. 15, Jets forward Rick Rypien, 27, reportedly committed suicide. Belak's body was found in a downtown Toronto hotel and condo on Aug. 31, but police have not confirmed the cause of death. Playing for five NHL teams in 15 years, he scored eight goals in 549 games, with 1,263 penalty minutes and 125 fights. Belak, who was 35, retired in March, a month after Nashville assigned him to the minors.
His death shocked friends who saw a promising future in television for the father of two young girls, an outwardly jovial player known for his playful humor—the 6'5" Belak used to joke that one of his side jobs was lifting 5'8" teammate Steve Sullivan on and off the team bus. This summer he had been preparing for the upcoming season of Battle of the Blades, a Canadian television series that pairs figure skaters with former hockey players.
After Belak's death his mother, Lorraine, confirmed that her son had suffered from depression. The life of an enforcer—who in most cases is in the league only because of his willingness to drop the gloves on a regular basis—is not easy, and the deaths of three scrappers, each of whom struggled with depression, addiction or both, has renewed calls for the NHL to abandon its long-standing tolerance of fighting. The league may finally be ready to listen. Together with the NHLPA, it issued a statement last week saying that it would investigate the deaths and take "concrete steps ... to enhance player welfare and minimize the likelihood of such events taking place."
JOHN RUSSELL/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (BELAK)
HIDDEN BATTLE Belak was known around the league for his outgoing personality and sense of humor, but he also suffered from depression.