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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ex- Maple Leaf Wade Belak passes away

3rd NHL enforcer to die this offseason

Friend of The Edge 102.1 morning show with Dean Blundell, NHL enforcer Wade Belak was a huge fan favourite in Toronto and a regular on Blundell's show even after he was traded. As Wade Belak's reported suicide or accidental overdose was the third death of a National Hockey League enforcer this summer, much attention will be paid to that specific career opportunity, and the role is worth examining. An era when players are limited to a certain amount of fights per season may not be far off.

The primary issue of head injuries will remain the hottest topic, as it affects all types of players at all positions. The players are bigger, faster and stronger, yet playing on the exact same size ice surface. Things we need to encourage include:

- higher standards for helmets

- new mandatory shoulder pads with padding outside and in

- no-touch icing

- more disciplinary measures for intentional and accidental head shots, with repeat offenders getting 10, 20 and 40 game suspensions

Belak was 35, Rick Rypien (August 2011) was 27, and Derek Boogaard (May 2011) was 28. I grew up in a central Ontario hockey family, watched Bobby Orr play since he was 14, saw Wayne Gretzky play four full games (literally; his coach would put him on defence when he was tired) in his ten-year-old season, the year he scored 400 goals (averaged 5 per game over 80 games including tourneys and playoffs). There has never been this many young players die in one summer, with a possible exception of car accidents, though I can't even remember three of those in one year.

Wade Belak (1976 - 2011)

Rick Rypien (1984 - 2011)

Derek Boogaard (1982 - 2011)

As far as the Toronto Maple Leafs go, Wade Belak is to me the 3rd in a line of fan faves to die young: Brian "Spinner" Spencer, John Kordic, and now, the much-loved Wade Belak. We will examine the theme of the ex-Toronto Maple Leafs that died young over at our Horses and Hockey blog.

Every time I heard him on the Dean Blundell Show, he seemed like a genuinely good guy who truly loved hockey, and his role in it. My hope is that Dean and the boys do everything they can to raise money for a worthwhile foundation to be established in Wade Belak's name. People close to him will know what he most believed in, and the foundation can do some work in those areas.

May his loving soul rest in peace.

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