By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Former Predator Wade Belak, an enforcer who had played with five NHL teams before retiring in March, was found dead Wednesday in Toronto. He was 35.
Belak is the third NHL enforcer found dead since May.
The Predators learned of Belak's death from NHL security and the team issued a statement saying the organization was shocked and sadden by his sudden and untimely death.
“Wade was a beloved member of the organization, a terrific teammate and wonderful father and husband who will be greatly missed,” according to the Predators' statement. “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.”
Toronto police spokesman Tony Vella said officers found a man dead when called at 1:40 p.m. EDT Wednesday at a hotel and condo complex. Vella said “foul play is not suspected in the ongoing investigation” into Belak's death.
Belak was scheduled to work as a sideline reporter on Nashville television broadcasts this season. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound forward played for Colorado, Calgary, Toronto, Florida and finished his career with Nashville, playing in 549 career NHL games with eight goals, 25 assists and 1,263 penalty minutes.
He fought 136 times during his 14-year NHL career, according to HockeyFights.com.
Belak is the third NHL tough guy who has died this offseason. Winnipeg's Rick Rypien was found dead at the age of 27 earlier this month at his home in Alberta after a police official said a call was answered for a “sudden and non-suspicious” death. Former Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard died in May at 28 due to an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.
After Rypien's death, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he expected the NHL to review its substance abuse and behavioral health program.
“We're talking about such a short period of time,” said Craig Button, who was the general manager of the Calgary Flames when Belak played there early in his career, told The Canadian Press.
“It's not only about the deaths, it's the deaths that surround similar type players. … It's not just getting hit in the head, it's everything that goes with that (enforcer) role. I think that people are paying very, very serious attention to concussions and blows to the head and the role of the enforcer.
“I don't think anybody can stop until we really understand the impact it has not only physically, but emotionally as well.”
Predators forward Blake Geoffrion sent his prayers to Belak's family on Twitter.
“Wade Belak was one of funniest dudes I had ever met. Just was with him earlier this summer. Can't believe it,” Geoffrion tweeted.
Bettman released a statement calling Belak a player who competed every minute of his career.
“Our hearts go out to Wade's loved ones, his friends, his former teammates and to all who feel the horrible void left by this tragedy,” Bettman said.
Executive director Don Fehr issued a statement sending condolences to Belak's family from the NHL Players' Association.
“His affable personality made him popular with teammates, fans and media, and he was a hardworking, respected member of the Association. He will undoubtedly be greatly missed throughout the entire hockey community,” Fehr said.
Belak recently travelled to Toronto to be a contestant on the CBC show “Battle of the Blades.”
“He was very excited that he was having an opportunity to maybe change his career and get into some commentating work,” former Toronto coach Pat Quinn told The Canadian Press. “I was excited for him, too. It was kind of one of those nice meetings where you walk away happy. He seemed delighted this was going on.”
Over the last week, Belak was interviewed a number of times after being selected to the “Battle of the Blades” cast and fielded questions about the deaths of the other two players.
He was scheduled to appear on TSN Radio with Bryan Hayes on Wednesday afternoon, but when the cab arrived to pick him up to take him to the interview, Belak didn't show up.
“We just figured that he forgot or he had something else come up and in radio we had to move on,” Hayes told CP24. “To think that the reason he didn't show up was because he had passed away is pretty crazy.”
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