Wade Belak’s passing yesterday came as a massive shock to the hockey community. It’s another in a trio of incomprehensible tragedies this summer that have left hockey fans and observers trying to find patterns that may not be there in the hopes that they’ll be able to prevent future deaths. Other stories will delve deeper into those topics but for now I just want to highlight some of my favourite memories of the former Maple Leaf.
Wade A Minute Premiers
At every stop in his NHL career Wade Belak immediately became the team’s most genial player. He had a great sense of humour and stories of just how affable he was have been pouring in since his passing. The premier was pretty tame to begin with but it hinted at the facility he had with the spotlight and showcased why he looked to be building a future as a commentator.
Belak at home
It was sickening to hear that Belak’s family found out about his death through the media. Here we get a glimpse at the young family that he leaves behind as Leafs fans got to know the man charged with protecting Mats Sundin and the Maple Leafs.
Grit, Hustle, Heart
We give intangibles short-thrift here because by their nature they are not easy to compare with any kind of certainty. What we can say is that Wade Belak played every shift with the kind of effort and intensity that you wish every player in the blue and white would bring to the arena. The third Leafs goal in that video is a perfect example.
Avenging Tomas Kaberle
I would mark this as the turning point in Leafs fans’ relationship with Wade Belak. When he was a utility player under Pat Quinn the sense was that he was not a good defender nor a useful forward. Quinn’s assertion that he was the team’s best skater was met with a laugh. Then noted scumbag Cam Janssen laid a vicious headshot on Tomas Kaberle. At the next meeting Belak bellowed for Janssen from the bench early in the game and exacted the frontier justice that Leafs fans were baying to see. It seemed that Leafs fans notably took a shine to him afterwards.
Last Career Goal
Fans were chanting my name in the streets," he said, "it felt like I was mayor for a week."
The roof almost came off of the ACC when Belak scored. Unfortunately, it’s not in the video but the crowd then burst into a "BE-LAK! BE-LAK!" chant.
Belak Gets Traded To Florida
That year’s trade deadline was not quite what Leafs fans expected but it did see a player that most expected to come back sent to Florida. It’s sad to see him on his way out since he seemed so genuinely happy to be in Toronto.