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Friends, family and teammates celebrate Belak

Sunday, 09.04.2011 / 9:32 PM / News
Friends, family members and teammates of all gathered Sunday afternoon for a private ceremony at Nashville's Woodmont Christian Church to remember Wade Belak, who died earlier this week.

Belak, 35, was found dead Wednesday at a luxury condo and hotel building in Toronto.

A veteran of 14 NHL seasons, Belak played for five teams, including his most recent stop with the Nashville Predators. Belak retired late last season -- finishing with 549 NHL games -- after he was waived by the Predators, but remained with the organization as a member of its radio broadcast team. This upcoming season, Belak was scheduled to be the team's sideline television reporter. He was also slated to take part in the Battle of the Blades, a figure-skating reality show that airs on CBC.

"He was a very special guy and was loved by everyone," retired player Tie Domi told The Canadian Press. "He was a teammate, a great, great teammate. He was a special kid."

Domi spent five years in Toronto with Belak and the two often set side-by-side in the team's dressing room.

Many Predator players were scheduled to return to Nashville later this month for the start of training camp, but several rearranged travel plans to be on hand for Sunday's service.

"It's so sad," Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter told CP. "He always saw the bigger picture.

"He was so happy to be retired. He was happy to be moving on because he had played for so long and now he was going to be able to relax and enjoy it."

According to reports, more than 300 people attended the service, including many current Predators and the team's front office personnel. Several former players were on hand, as was Toronto Maple Leaf GM Brian Burke.

Wade Belak's mother, Lorraine, has said that her son suffered from depression before his death.

Domi also talked about depression in his remarks after the service.

"This has to do with depression and getting the right message out there," Domi told The Tennessean. “That depression can be beat. That’s what I want to do for him and his family is get the right message out there. Because the wrong message has been sent. Not just about hockey. This is about life. There are 3,500 people in Canada who commit suicide a year, 80 percent of them are men.

"Wade was alone and he can’t be alone when you have these things going on. You have to call somebody."

Three NHL players have died in the past five months. New York Rangers forward Derek Boogard died in May  and Vancouver's Rick Rypien passed away less than three weeks ago.

On Thursday, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association issued a joint statement in response to the three deaths.

"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."

Sunday was also a time to remember Belak's contributions to the game and those he met in his 14-season journey through the NHL.

Pittsburgh's Steve Sullivan, a former teammate in Nashville, talked about how much Belak loved his daughters and how he would do anything for his family. Others remembered his ability to settle down a dressing room with his self-deprecating wit. Still others recalled his involvment in the community, including his stint as a volunteer firefighter.

In Saturday's Tennessean, the Predators took out a full page tribute to Belak that celebrated his contributions both on and off the ice.

“There’s no question something like this is not going to go away," Nashville GM David Poile told The Tennessean. "This is going to have a big impact on our whole organization because of what Wade’s presence meant there."Belak is survived by wife Jennifer and daughters Andie and Alex.

I didn't think it would actually work, but it ended up working, so I'm thanking my lucky stars tonight.

— Columbus forward Nick Foligno on scoring the overtime goal after telling the Blue Jackets in the locker room that he would win the game