by Jas Faulkner, senior correspondent, Nashville, TN USA
At press time, facts and fanciful theories about the death of Wade Belak are already starting to circulate among the tweeters and other assorted noisemakers. His last tweet on Tuesday night has fueled some speculation that Belak might have accidentally overmedicated in an attempt to get relief from the pain he was in from training for the latest edition of CBC’s “Battle of the Blades”. Maybe that was the case, maybe not.
Here’s what you need to know about Wade Belak:
Known for being scary and dangerous on the ice, Wade Belak could be completely done in by a five-year-old staring across the table at him during a player meet and greet at the Nashville Zoo. Same goes for the kids he encountered at Monroe Carell, Jr Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
As big as he was and as, well, as Wade Belak as he was, he could occasionally manage to walk through a grocery store and not be recognised. This game face would last until he saw someone who came up to his shins looking at him in amazement. Then the trademark lopsided grin would appear, there would be the familiar, raspy “Hi!” and he was on.
Belak, or Beeker as he was sometimes called by his teammates in Nashville, was one of the good guys. Fans adored his sense of humour.
And while he didn’t have qualms about telling former teammate and fellow Saskatonian Dan Ellis that he looked like a chihuahua, he also didn’t mind having the tables turned on him as they were in a video he made for a New Year’s Eve’s game:
Belak: I’m here with Martin Erat. Marty! Do you have any plans for tonight?
Martin Erat: Yeah.
Erat: I’m not telling you. You might show up.
To the kids who wanted to follow in his footsteps, he was the person who wasn’t afraid to speak up about the importance of being true to yourself. In a time when domestic dramas about misbehaving athletes seem to be de rigeur, Belak was unapologetic about the central importance of the people he loved most: his wife, Jennifer and his daughters, Andie and Alex. He was a volunteer firefighter. He was a rocker who loved to show off his tattoos, which included symbols of his deeply held religious beliefs.
To those of us in the press corps who encountered him, he was unfailingly kind and polite. Having already hosted his own radio show and made countless videos, he was an old hand at media work and a welcome addition to the Nashville sports media community.
Here is a story he shared on his Blackstone Radio Show in 2009 when asked about goalie fights:
Belak: Oh yeah. I had a goalie chirpin’ at me one time and he really got on my nerves, so we got into it.
Guest (Pekka Rinne?): What team was it?
Belak: It wasn’t NHL. This guy was playing for Hershey.
(after a long pause)
Guest: Who were you playing for?
Stepping behind the desk to join Preds Radio’s Tom Callahan seemed like the next logical step. Those who were lucky enough to hear their Game 5 broadcast last spring will not soon forget Belak’s and Callahan’s desk banging, shouting, almost boyish glee at Jerred Smithson’s game winning goal. The upcoming season was full of promise as he was going to continue his radio coverage and host his own show on the newly minted Clear Channel sports station in Nashville.
It’s too soon to speculate about who will step into his place, but it is certain they will find themselves standing in some mighty big traces. Wade, thanks for the great years of hockey and the laughs. You’re gonna be missed, big guy. Godspeed.
This is Jas Faulkner who is holding Wade Belak’s friends and family in the light.