Tough guys taken down

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:37 PM ET

TORONTO - The tragic news Wednesday of Wade Belak's death was the latest shot to the gut in a gloomy summer that has seen three of the game's tough guys taken down too early.

While the circumstances surrounding the three deaths since May all differed, the men were united in their role as certified enforcers throughout their NHL careers. Add in the loss of long-time tough guy Bob Probert the previous summer and the debate surrounding the role of the game's tough guys will be raging like never before.

Here's a brief look at the career of the four men who lived the tough life.

Wade Belak

Found dead Wednesday afternoon in his Toronto hotel, the affable Belak was in town preparing for a role with CBC's popular Battle of the Blades series ... A first-round pick of the Quebec Nordiques, the 35-year-old played for five NHL teams, most recently Nashville ... The Saskatoon native retired this past spring, in part because of a lack of playing time and in part because of a hip condition. He was making the transition from player to team broadcaster with the Preds late in the season ... Married with two young children, Belak was arguably never more popular than he was in Toronto where he played in 340 regular-season and playoff games with the Leafs from 2001-2008 ... In 549 career games, Belak piled up a whopping 1,263 penalty minutes while chipping in with eight goals and 25 assists .... Had a tattoo on the inside of his right arm that read "mayhem" because "that's the way I like to play."

YOUTUBE MOMENT: Plenty to pick from, but his KO of Donald Brashear on March 10, 2009 was one of his finest moments.

Rick Rypien

The 27-year-old tough guy never got the chance to resume his career with his new team, the Winnipeg Jets, after his personal struggles resulted in a death while far too young ... Found dead by a family member on Aug. 15, Rypien's death was later ruled to be suicide ... Rypien, a cousin of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, was given a leave of absence with the Vancouver Canucks last season for "personal reasons." ... Rypien was reported to have suffered from depression for the better part of a decade ... In 119 NHL games, Rypien had nine goals but piled up 226 penalty minutes ... Former Canucks teammate Michael Grabner said of Rypien: "Pound for pound (Rypien) was one of the toughest guys out there."... In 2010-11 played nine games with the Canucks earning one assist and 31 penalty minutes. In the off-season, he signed a one-year deal with the Jets that would have paid him $700,000.

YOUTUBE MOMENT: On Oct. 19, Rypien goes after a fan in Minnesota during a game between the Wild and Canucks.

Derek Boogaard

Fondly known as the "Boogeyman" by his large fan following in Minnesota, Boogaard was widely thought to be the most intimidating heavyweight in the NHL ... Found dead at age 28 in his Minneapolis apartment on May 13 by family members. Subsequent investigation revealed that the cause of death was accidental but his blood was discovered to contain a lethal mixing of oxycodone and alcohol ... Played just 22 games in his final NHL season, his first with the New York Rangers, after suffering a concussion in December. Registered just one goal and one assist and 45 penalty minutes ... Boogaard, a Saskatoon native, was reported to have been participating in the NHL and NHLPA's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program prior to his death ... Had just signed a $6.5 million contract with the Rangers the previous July, affirming the value NHL teams place on proven heavyweight enforcers.

YOUTUBE MOMENT: Chilling fight with Ottawa's Matt Carkner on Dec. 9, 2010. Boogaard's head crashes to the ice causing a concussion in what sadly was the final game of his career.

Bob Probert

Long known as one of the game's heavyweight champions, Probert died on July 5, 2010 at age 45, a grim foreboding for this summer's tragedies ... "Probie" died while boating on Lake St. Clair when he collapsed after complaining of severe chest pains. He was pronounced dead later that afternoon ... Probert's family donated his brain to the Sports Legacy Institute where researchers were studying the effects of sports-related concussions ... Researchers at the Boston University institute later showed that Probert suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition ... A definitive enforcer, Probert spent much of his career policing Detroit Red Wings superstars, including long-time captain Steve Yzerman ... During his playing career, Probert had his share of run-ins with the law including an arrest in 1989 for cocaine possession ... When informed that Probert had CTE, Derek Boogaard chillingly told the New York Post "Live by the sword, die by the sword."

YOUTUBE MOMENT: There are many, but the series of scraps with former Leafs and Rangers enforcer Tie Domi are legendary.


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