Wade Belak



That's Wade Belak scoring his first goal in over four calendar years. I was actually watching that game when it happened, and I couldn't help but cheer. The big guy was always a physical presence for the Leafs, but he was never exactly a scoring threat. His pure joy in the moment when that puck went past Chris Mason was just incredible - one of those moments where you see the little kid playing pond hockey underneath the mature, professional NHL player.

Wade retired last year because he wanted to go out in good health, spend time with his family, and perhaps go on to make a career in broadcasting. He started a radio show in Nashville.

Today, Wade Belak was found dead. It hasn't been officially confirmed, but the news has been spreading like wildfire for the past 20 minutes. Edit: Official confirmation. 

It's senseless. It's tragic, and unfortunately, it feels all too much like something that could have been avoided. 

After the losses of Derek Boogard and Rick Rypien earlier this year, it's utterly senseless that another NHLer who made his bones with his fists as much as his hockey skills has been lost to an early grave. It's barbaric and obscene that we're talking about a 35 year old father of two (Jesus Christ, he's only five years older than I am) who will leave behind a family wondering what they should have seen, what should have been done, what someone could have said.

I love hockey. I love the energy, the speed, the hits, the excitement, the scoring, the beauty. 

But I don't love the fights. Not anymore. Not at this cost. 

Because I love the game, I cannot cheer for watching guys like Derek Dorsett or Jared Boll dropping the gloves anymore. Not when it means that each time they drop the gloves I could end up reading their obituary in the Dispatch five or six years down the road. Not when it means they're far more likely to end up with concussions or brain damage that could severely impair their ability to function as they age. 

Nothing that happens in a hockey game, up to and including the Stanley Cup, has ever been worth the cost of a man's life, and now we've seen the butcher's bill paid three times over in the span of one summer.

Enough.

Mr. Bettman. Mr. Fear. You have the power to stop this.

Gather the Board of Governors. Gather the General Managers. Gather the Player Representatives. Insist on an immediate all hands mandatory meeting of the entire NHLPA. Every single professional player from the 20 year veterans to this year's draft class. Training camp hasn't started yet. There is time, and for a matter this important, we can wait.

Sit down and ensure we NEVER see a summer like this again. Yes, it is time to remove fighting. Yes, we need a total ban on hits to the head. We need a systematic and comprehensive evaluation of the NHL and NHLPA's substance abuse and medical support programs by the best qualified external auditors possible, and their recommendations for changes and improvements MUST be acted on.. Initiate and agree to strict and painful penalties for anyone who endangers the life of a fellow player on the ice. If teams will not agree to a set of mandatory baselines for medical care, treatment, and evaluation, particularly for potential brain injuries, lock them out.

The system is not just broken, it is catastrophically damaged, and insisting that things are fine and that these are isolated tragedies is, at best, willful ignorance.

Derek Boogard deserved a chance to stand with his teammates in the new Madison Square Garden. Rick Rypien deserved a chance to show fans in Winnipeg that he was capable of a positive impact on the ice after facing down his demons. Wade Belak deserved a chance to charm the fans over the airways, and to see his daughters grow up.

No game is worth this cost. Not now, and not ever. As fans, we have the responsibility to see what has happened and demand changes. 

I pray those with the power to make them will see what has happened, and act.

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