NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Wade Belak’s family members, friends and teammates gathered for a private ceremony at Woodmont Christian Church on a rainy Sunday to remember the former NHL player.
The 35-year-old Belak was found dead Wednesday at a luxury condo and hotel building in Toronto.
A source told The Canadian Press that the Saskatoon native hanged himself in an apparent suicide.
Tie Domi, who played with Belak for five seasons with Toronto, remembered the friend who sat next to him in the Maple Leafs’ locker room.
“He was a very special guy and was loved by everyone,” Domi said. “He was a teammate, a great, great teammate. He was a special kid.”
A veteran of 14 NHL seasons, Belak played in 549 games with five teams, most recently the Nashville Predators. He retired late last season and stayed with the organization as a member of its radio broadcast team. For the upcoming season, Belak was slated to serve as the team’s sideline television reporter.
Away from the rink, Belak was active in the Nashville community. He routinely visited schools and hospitals and also was a volunteer firefighter in nearby Williamson County.
The Predators players placed a full-page tribute to Belak in Saturday’s edition of the Tennessean newspaper. One of the photos featured the six-foot-five Belak reading a book to elementary school kids with a children’s sized plastic firefighter hat on his head.
Several Predators players who had planned to come back to Nashville later in the month in advance of the opening of the team’s training camp rearranged their travel plans to attend the funeral.
“It’s so sad,” Nashville defenceman Ryan Suter said. “He always saw the bigger picture.
“He was so happy to be retired. He was happy to be moving on because he had played for so long and now he was going to be able to relax and enjoy it.”
Belak is the third NHL enforcer to die this off-season. New York Rangers forward Derek Boogard died in May as a result of an accidental overdose of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone. Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien died two weeks prior to Belak in what authorities called a “sudden and non-suspicious” death.
The NHL and the NHL Player’s Association issued a joint statement Thursday in response to the loss of three of its players in the span of one off-season.
The statement read in part: “While the circumstances of each case are unique, these tragic events cannot be ignored. We are committed to examining, in detail, the factors that may have contributed to these events, and to determining whether concrete steps can be taken to enhance player welfare and minimize the likelihood of such events taking place.”
Domi is encouraged that the NHL and the NHLPA are taking steps to help the league’s players. It was a subject he discussed with Dr. Brian Shaw on his flight to Nashville Saturday. Shaw is the co-director of the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program,
“I sat with Dr. Shaw on the plane yesterday,” Domi said. “It is in good hands with the league and the PA.”
Belak is survived by wife Jennifer and daughters Andie and Alex.