Flames mourn loss of Belak

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:41 AM ET

CALGARY - On the same day news breaks one former Calgary Flames player’s 2011-12 season — and likely career — is over, another is found dead.

It sure puts the Marc Savard’s concussion issue into perspective. Savard has answers — his head won’t allow him to play.

The Wade Belak tragedy leaves nothing but more questions.

Belak’s body was discovered inside a Toronto condo Wednesday, bringing the death toll of NHL enforcers to three this summer.

He was just 35.

Belak was only in Calgary for parts of three seasons, playing fewer than 80 games in a Flames uniform, but he made a huge impression on everybody in the organization and in the stands.

He left that same impact everywhere he went.

Belak never turned down an interview, never said no to an autograph and never seemed to lose his Cheshire Cat smile aside from the moments he spent chucking knuckles with other NHL heavyweights.

The smile came back as soon as those battles were over and he always left teammates grinning because of his antics and personality.

“We are shocked and sad to hear of Wade’s passing,” said Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who was in just his third year in the league when Belak joined the Flames in 1998-99 as part of the Theoren Fleury deal from the Colorado Avalanche.

“He was a wonderful guy and great teammate. He was so full of energy and life.

“I will always remember him as always having a smile on his face and being so upbeat. I truly enjoyed playing with him. My family’s thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

“He felt like family to most of those who crossed his path on a daily basis.

“We are deeply saddened with the news of Wade’s passing,” the Flames said in a statement. “We are proud that Wade wore the Calgary uniform, and we will always remember him as member of the Flames Family. We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the Belak family. This is a terrible loss of a vibrant young man; a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey.”

Excited about a new chapter of his life as a broadcaster and radio host, Belak appeared to have everything going for him.

He had a young family, the opportunity to stay close to the game he lived for with a radio show in Nashville and a spot on the latest instalment of the Battle of the Blades TV show on CBC.

Former Flames coach Terry Crisp, a staple on the Nashville Predators broadcasting scene, was expecting to be reunited with Belak for Preds games this season, with the recently retired tough guy taking on a sideline-reporter role.

Like many of those who were so stunned and saddened by the news they couldn’t bring themselves to talk publicly, Crisp was still in shock when reached by phone.

“Terrible, terrible news,” Crisp said. “He was so damn healthy. The last guy you’d think of is Wade Belak. God Almighty.

“First you’ve got (Derek) Boogaard, then (Rick) Rypien, then Wade … what’s going on in our hockey world?

“It makes you sit back and wonder, doesn’t it?”

Questions will surely come regarding the fighter’s role in hockey, with Boogaard, Rypien and Belak all carving out careers by dropping their gloves before dying premature deaths.

Questions will also rise about how the league treats injuries and whether that may lead to addiction to painkillers.

More questions may come as to whether guys such as Belak who have dedicated their lives to hockey are really prepared mentally to give it up the way he did in March.

“Ur entire life is dedicated to hockey & one day it’s over and ur kicked to the curb!,” read a tweet by ex-NHLer Tyson Nash (@TysonNash). “And the NHLPA does nothing to prepare u.”

In Belak’s case, he seemed to be a natural fit for TV and radio broadcasting.

“He was enjoying it. He was going to work with us again,” said Crisp, who will remember Belak for his kindness and willingness to engage any hockey fan.

“You watch players and how they act and Wade was one of the best. He always had time. He was never in a hurry to not do something that was positive — even a little thing.

“He was just one of the best people. His attitude, sense of humour, (dealing) with the public, in the dressing room, with the young players … Un-friggen-real. Always happy, in good humour, then bingo … “To die that young, it’s just not right.”


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