Former NHL player Wade Belak was found dead in Toronto on Wednesday afternoon. Belak, who played in parts of 14 seasons with five NHL teams, was 35 years old.
Belak finished his career with the Nashville Predators and remained with the team in an organizational role following his retirement.
Belak's wife Jennifer released the following statement Thursday evening: "We are overwhelmed and deeply touched by the outpouring of compassion and support since Wade's passing. Wade was a big man with an even bigger heart. He was a deeply devoted father and husband, a loyal friend and a well respected athlete. This loss leaves a huge hole in our lives and, as we move forward, we ask that everyone remember Wade's infectious sense of humor, his caring spirit and the joy he brought to his friends, family and fans. The coming days will be very difficult for our family and we respectfully ask that we be allowed to grieve privately."
In a statement Wednesday evening, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said: "The National Hockey League family mourns the passing of Wade Belak, who competed to the utmost every minute of his NHL 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."
The Associated Press is reporting that a person familiar with Belak's death said Belak hanged himself at a downtown luxury hotel and condo building. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because details of the investigation were confidential.
"At this point it's non-suspicious," Toronto police spokesman Tony Vella said Thursday. "We will not provide any further information on a non-suspicious case."
Belak's mother told CBC News that the former NHL player suffered from depression prior to his death.
"I think he was taking control of that," Lorraine Belak said in a phone interview from Nashville. "He didn't talk about it all the time or a lot."
Belak's passing is the third player death in five months. Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien passed away 16 days earlier and New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard died May 13. Rypien waged a well-documented battle with depression during his playing career and Boogard died from an accidental toxic mix of alcohol and oxycodone.
The three deaths have prompted the League and the National Hockey League Players' Association to examine the safeguards already in place to ensure player safety and make any changes that might be necessary, according to a statement released by both parties Thursday afternoon.
"Everyone at the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association is profoundly saddened by the loss, within a matter of a few weeks, of three young men, each of whom was in the prime of his life.
"While the circumstances of each case are unique, these tragic events cannot be ignored. We are committed to examining, in detail, the factors that may have contributed to these events, and to determining whether concrete steps can be taken to enhance player welfare and minimize the likelihood of such events taking place. Our organizations are committed to a thorough evaluation of our existing assistance programs and practices and will make immediate modifications and improvements to the extent they are deemed warranted.
"It is important to ensure that every reasonable step and precaution is taken to make NHL Players, and all members of the NHL family, aware of the vast resources available to them when they are in need of assistance. We want individuals to feel comfortable seeking help when they need help.
"NHL Clubs and our fans should know that every avenue will be explored and every option pursued in the furtherance of this objective."
Former goaltender and current NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes, who worked with Belak on NHL Network telecasts during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Belak appeared as a guest analyst, was one of many trying to come to grips Belak's passing.
"The NHL is a tight-knit family," Weekes told NHL.com Wednesday night. "That's what makes this so devastating. You know there is a ripple effect for Wade's family and all the people he touched in his life as an athlete and human."
Born July 3, 1976 in Saskatoon, Sask., Belak was drafted in the first round (No. 12) by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994. After the franchise moved to Colorado in 1995 and was rechristened as the Avalanche, Belak appeared in 35 games for the team during three seasons, but didn't get sustained playing time until appearing in 40 games for the Calgary Flames in the 1999-2000 season. After splitting the 2000-01 season between Calgary and Toronto, Belak remained with the Maple Leafs until 2008, when he was traded to Florida for a fifth-round draft pick. In November 2008, Belak was dealt to Nashville in exchange for Nick Tarnasky.
He spent the remainder of his career with the Predators before being waived Feb. 25, 2011. After clearing waivers, Belak announced his retirement March 8, 2011.
Belak could play forward or defense, and his primary role was as an enforcer, accruing 1,263 penalty minutes in his career. While his offensive numbers were modest -- Belak had 8 goals and 25 assists in 549 games -- he was considered an affable and easy-going personality who was popular with the Toronto media and among fans.
Belak was scheduled to participate on CBC's upcoming season of the popular "Battle of the Blades." Belak had hosted a short series on Canada's BiteTV known as "The Wade Belak Show." During his time in Nashville, he hosted a radio show on 104.5 FM "The Zone."
Former teammates took to Twitter to express sadness and disbelief over the loss of their friend.
"Wade Belak was one of the funniest dudes I ever met," Predators forward Blake Geoffrion tweeted. "Just was with him earlier this summer. Can't believe it Thoughts and prayers to his fam."
NHL veteran Owen Nolan, who played with Belak in Toronto, tweeted: "I'm lost for words. Wade Belak RIP my friend."
The Maple Leafs released this statement Wednesday night: "The Toronto Maple Leafs are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Wade Belak. Wade was extremely popular with his teammates, the staff, and Maple Leafs fans everywhere. He was the consummate team player on and off the ice. He will be deeply missed in the hockey community and our thoughts and prayers are with Wade's family and friends during this challenging time."
The Flames also reacted to the news with a statement which read: "We are deeply saddened with the news of Wade's passing. We are proud that Wade wore the Calgary uniform and we will always remember him as a member of the Flames Family. We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the Belak family. This is a terrible loss of a vibrant young man; a man with great character who truly loved the game of hockey."
And the Predators released the following statement: "The entire Nashville Predators organization and family is shocked and saddened by the sudden and untimely passing of Wade Belak. Wade was a beloved member of the organization, a terrific teammate and wonderful father and husband who will be greatly missed. 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."
In lieu of flowers the family will accept donations to The Andie and Alex Belak Scholarship Fund. Checks may be made payable to Woodmont Christian Church/Belak (3601 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville, TN 37215).
I think I'm lucky to be here and you definitely don't take very many things for granted, if you take anything for granted. I definitely put my family and my wife and my close family in perspective, that they're the most important thing in the world. I want to do whatever I can to play hockey, but like I said, under the right circumstances.
— Stars forward Rich Peverley to "The Musers" radio show on The Ticket 1310 AM in Dallas