Skip to main content
The Official Site of the Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs News

The Unknowable Pain Of Wade Belak

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
RELATED: Ulmer: Belak Was One Of A Kind | Belak Found Dead In Toronto

VIDEO: Remembering Belak | Scuba Diving With Wade | Belak Returns To T.O.
DISCUSS IT ON:  Leafspace  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

Those who die by suicide or misadventure usually die alone but in the end, they were always being chased.

It is that way with Wade Belak, dead at 35.

It was that way with former Leafs John Kordic who died in 1992 after a drug binge and before him Brian ‘Spinner’ Spencer, shot dead during a drug buy.

Between the three Leaf enforcers, 105 goals, 80 from Spencer, and 1,794 penalty minutes.

These are the salient numbers for those who will pick up the thread between fighting and irreparable tragedy.

Tie in this summer’s overdose death of the Rangers’ Derek Boogaard and the consensus of suicide in the death of former Canuck Rick Rypien and you near the quorum needed to look long and hard at the hidden toll of fighting and the damage on the psyche inflicted by a speedball of dread that dwarfs the physical pain driven into the skin and the heart by calloused ungloved fists.

Belak never lost a game to concussion but the tailings are there.

Consider the incalculable effects of concussion, the cascading depression, the unbearable psychic bleeding, above all the crippling, unfathomable loneliness that would have prompted him, as various media have reported, to end his own life.

That the same tide that swallowed Belak, a wry self-deprecating man who loved being a go-to guy for Leafs TV is somehow brother to the currents that pulled under the pained and sullen Kordic and the grievously flawed but charming Spencer seems impossible.

It also makes the link with fighting and mental illness, either as a prerequisite or a result, irresistible. Except for their livelihood and love of tattoos, you could not have found three more dissimilar men.

But how to tease out how much that job had to do with Belak’s death, with any of their deaths?

Street kids are said to be 11 times more likely to kill themselves than similarly aged mainstream youth. Theirs are lives of crushing poverty and drug abuse, hardly the domain of hockey players who stay in five star hotels and enjoy what is by comparison incalculable wealth. Where is the thread here?

Gay and lesbian teens are also more prone to suicide.

Women are more likely to choose a death by drugs than men.

If they are overrepresented, hockey fighters are certainly not alone. Ban fighting and while you are at it, don’t forget poverty, gender and homosexuality.

The omnibus answer is that there is no omnibus answer. A guy who many of us knew a little has left us thinking that we knew him not at all.

What we do know is that his pain was so acute as to be unknowable to the rest of us. Trying to fathom it by measuring it against our experiences and sensibilities would be like measuring an earthquake with a stethoscope.

I’m guessing Wade Belak is the latest ex-Leaf to do the one thing he knew would make the pain that consumed his heart in strips finally, permanently stop.

I don’t know where that pain came from.

Now it falls to the rest of us to somehow find a better way than his.

View More