September 1, 2011
Belak: A writer's best friend
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Wade Belak didn’t just protect players.
He was the go-to guy for the media — and in a Toronto market where Leafs copy is king, the red-headed rogue was a 24/7 source of humour and perspective. Whether the issue was silly or sensitive, Belak knew exactly what to say, without going too far off-side. He certainly saved our bacon through the years, but we came to admire the person as well as the personality. He will be missed.
On Christmas presents in his early days in Saskatchewan:
“My dad owned Appaloosa show horses, but he had to sell ours to put us (he and his brother) through hockey. It was (a big sacrifice) and you appreciated it.
“I never got the horse, but I did get a mountain bike. It had big tires and hand brakes. That took a couple of Christmases of asking, but I finally got it.”
On surviving life as a Leaf:
“Many people who left Toronto probably brought their ulcers with them. Everyone here (in Nashville) asks me what it was like to be there, to be in the circus. Here, every little thing isn’t dragged out for a week. If we don’t score a power-play goal for a couple of days, no one really notices.
“If you survived Toronto, you can survive anywhere. I had some great years and, after the lockout, my way of dealing with it was to have fun. But I was lucky. People weren’t looking at me to score.”
On his multiple tattoos:
Belak certainly suffered for his art. He once spent eight hours in the tattoo parlour with one of seven creations etched into his arms and back.
“It’s a painful process, but like I’ve said for years, they’re addictive,” Belak explained with a laugh. “I actually had only one in junior hockey (a little Yosemite Sam on his back), but started adding them in the minors when I played in Hershey. Too much time on my hands I guess. I’ve had them done in Hershey, Denver, Kelowna and Los Angeles.”
Belak’s canvas included a Chinese-design sun on his right biceps and a devilish joker head on his left biceps. One of his favourites, sad in retrospect, was a Guardian Angel, down his left arm, depicting his wife Jennifer and has the names of their two daughters.
He said at the time: “So I had to get another for the other arm (a Gothic-type pattern with the word ‘Mayhem’ took five hours) because I thought that not getting (matching tattoos) would look funny.
“Yosemite wasn’t a big deal with my parents. But once I got a little freakier with tattoos, it was like ‘We’ve lost control of our son.’
On going 143 games and almost four calendar years without a goal, until December of 2007 against Nashville:
Asked if he remembered his last goal, Belak ventured it might have been against the Ottawa Senators - the roaring ‘20s edition. Assured it was versus Montreal on Dec. 20, 2003, there had to be confirmation it was the Canadiens and not the Maroons.
“Two seconds before, Darcy Hordichuk wanted to (fight) in the corner, but I told him ‘no thanks, I have to score now’. It felt so surreal when the puck went in. I don’t want to retire knowing my last goal as a pro came in England (for the Coventry Blaze during the NHL lockout).”
On playing in Britain:
“The biggest adjustment for me is the driving. They’re on the wrong side of the road and there aren’t many road signs. If you get caught in one of those roundabouts, it’s not like you can stop and pull out a map. I live about five minutes from the rink, but got lost the first day and it took me an hour to get there.
“I honestly knew nothing about England before I came here, except that it’s green and that it gets dark in the winter time. I think there has been one sunny day since I got here.
“There has been about a fight a game. I had one with a Canadian guy, who had chopped me pretty hard in the knee when I was in front of their net. I bumped him back and the next you knew, he was dropping his gloves and asking me, ‘ya wanna go?’. I thought he wasn’t serious, but as soon as we dropped them he kind of fell down.”
Tie Domi on deputizing Belak as his replacement as team enforcer:
“I wouldn’t be teaching him this stuff if I didn’t want him to. Hell, I haven’t had help (doing the dirty work) in flippin’ 10 years here. He’s willing and I love it. “I told him it’s an opportunity to become king of the castle. He’s getting better and better (at handling himself) and he’s playing more at the same time. You make a reputation for yourself, then guys don’t run you and you get more time to focus on playing.”