TORONTO – Wade Belak has been found dead in Toronto, the third NHL tough guy to die in 2011 and second in less than a month.
The Nashville Predators confirmed Belak’s death Wednesday. He was 35.
“The entire Nashville Predators organization and family is shocked and saddened by the sudden and untimely passing of Wade Belak,” general manager David Poile said in a statement. “Wade was
a beloved member of the organization, a terrific teammate and wonderful father and husband who will be greatly missed.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Jennifer and children Andie and Alex. We offer our full support to them at this very difficult time.”
Specific details were not immediately available, but Toronto police confirmed they were called to a downtown hotel and condo complex in the early afternoon and are still investigating.
Craig Button, who was the general manager of the Calgary Flames when Belak played there early in his career, said the rugged forward was popular among his teammates.
“He was a guy that on the ice his teammates loved him because he was there to fight the fights, so to speak,” said Button. “Off the ice, everybody loved him because he was an outgoing, gregarious guy.
“It’s hard to believe because he was one of those guys that just seemed to have that infectious enthusiasm.”
Fans flocked to social media upon hearing the news. Thousands of messages flooded Twitter and by early evening, at least 10 memorial pages devoted to Belak had sprung up on Facebook.
Belak’s death comes less than a month after Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien was found dead in his off-season home in Crowsnest Pass, Alta., at the age of 27.
Derek Boogaard, a 28-year-old forward with the New York Rangers, was found dead May 13 at his Minneapolis apartment due to an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.
A tough customer most nights on the ice, Belak was popular among the media off it because of his friendly, easy-going demeanour. He was also a quick wit in interviews, often providing funny and entertaining quotes.
Belak spent the past three seasons with the Predators prior to retiring over the summer. He was scheduled to work on Nashville’s television broadcasts this coming year.
Belak was in Toronto to film the latest season of the CBC show “Battle of the Blades,” and had been doing promotional events within the last week.
The six-foot-five, 222-pound Belak spent parts of 14 seasons in the NHL with Nashville, Florida, Toronto, Calgary and Colorado. He was taken in the first round, 12th overall, in the ’94 NHL entry draft by the Quebec Nordiques.
Belak spent his junior hockey career with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, registering 11 goals and 42 assists in 211 career games. But he also amassed 746 penalty minutes.
Belak added two goals and two assists in 36 career WHL playoff appearances while racking up 88 penalty minutes.