Versatile veteran Wade Belak recently spent some time answering questions submitted at FloridaPanthers.com by fans from Miami to Sweden. Belak, who’s become a fan favorite since being acquired in February from Toronto, answered questions about fighting, Toronto, and whether he’d consider returning to England and the Coventry Blaze.
From Andy King in New Brunswick: Compare the style of play in England to the NHL. What was the atmosphere like?
Belak: “The play was nothing comparable to the NHL. Probably like the AHL, probably a little less depending on who you were playing. Some teams were really good, some teams were really bad. The teams we played in Scotland we’d blow out 11-0. It was like playing a team in the United League. The better teams in Sheffield, Nottingham and Cardiff were probably comparable to the AHL. It was good, it was fast. They had better players. I don’t know if they had more money, but it seemed to be the case. It was a great atmosphere. The fans kind of spilled over from the soccer side. It was loud, especially our building. They were always singing, chanting. Our building only seated probably 3,000 people, but it was packed and loud.”
From Simon Hayes in Coventry, England: Would you consider coming back to play for the Coventry Blaze?
Belak: “Probably not. Its tough now that I have two kids in school and everyone is settled. I think when I’m done I’m done. I can’t see going overseas, uprooting my family. I had a lot of fun over there and met some great people. But when I’m done at that age I probably won’t want to play anymore.”
From Alex Grande: The Simpsons, South Park or Family Guy?
Belak: Family Guy.
From Travis Culham: What makes a good coach? What makes a terrible coach?
Belak: “A good coach is one who holds everyone accountable, I think. Even the good players. He’s well prepared, easy to talk to, his door is always open. A guy who not always yelling and screaming and pointing out the obvious. He’s a good teacher, especially to the young guys.
“A terrible coach? He’s a yeller, a screamer. He makes it real miserable to come to the rink.”
From Oscar Sandstrom of Sweden: What’s the worst injury you’re suffered during a fight and from just playing?
Belak: “Worst injury from a fight was probably a broken nose, broken hands. Worst from not fighting? A separated shoulder. I was hit into the boards and my collarbone went through my trap. Immediate surgery a few days later.”
From Steve in West Palm Beach: How do you like South Florida? What’s the best part of living here?
Belak: “The weather, obviously. It’s a great place to live. You can’t beat the warm weather, especially with hockey season. It’s a cold weather sport, but when you’re able to play in nice weather every day it’s nice. When you come out of the rink it’s always warm. You know how to dress for it every day, shorts and a t-shirt. From Jon in Miami Beach: Heard you on the Ron and Paul radio show and heard you like Guinness. Are you available to have a pint with some fans after a game?
Belak (laughing): “No. I’ve got to go home. I live a half hour away and have to get up early in the morning and come here and get the kids ready for the school.”
From Jared Ford in Medicine Hat: Beside yourself, who are some of the toughest fighters in the league?
Belak: “Probably (Derek) Boogaard, (Georges) Laraque, and (Donald) Brashear. Top three.”
From Alex in Toronto: Since you fight on skates, does it really help hockey players to take boxing lessons?
Belak: “I think so. It teaches you to take a punch and protect yourself. For balance you have to turn your skates sideways. You don’t want to come in straight on because they’ll easily knock you off balance…In the past guys would go in toe to toe, blow for blow. But guys are bigger and stronger. You can’t fight like that. Guys are too big and strong and know how to throw punches. They’re nearly boxers on ice. And they throw heavy, heavy punches. From Jonathan Hart: Who’s the biggest threat in the Southeast Division?
Belak: “Probably Washington. I think they’ll be a pretty good team again.”
From Eric Tomczak in Pompano Beach: What kind of music do you listen to before and after games?
Belak: “Before games I like anything heavy – Korn, Slipknot, Pantera. Kind of mellow after the game. Not heavy, but not slow. Not like end of the night song, slow dance, but not heavy
From Jim Murphy in Columbus, Ohio: You ever get sick of the travel and the schedule?
Belak: “By the time February rolls along you’re pretty much sick of practicing and travel. But comparing the schedule (in Florida) to Toronto, where you have to clear customs in Toronto and do all that stuff for one game in the U.S., and then come home and do it again the next night, it’s not bad.” From Giancarlo: What’s the biggest difference playing in Florida rather than Toronto?
Belak: “I think the biggest thing is the media. In Toronto, you were under a microscope every day. Every day you’d be talking to a minimum of 10 people there for practice. The lockerroom was packed depending on what rumor or soap opera was going on. Something was always going on there. It’s nice to come here and concentrate on hockey. Toronto was a great place to play, but when you’re losing as we were the last few years it makes for a real long year. You can’t get away from it. Here? You come to your job and escape when you leave the ice.”
From Steve Sheridan: Why’s your skin so pale when you live in Florida?
Belak (laughing): “Yeah, well, unfortunately, my grandfather wasn’t a tan guy. We have that Scandanavian blood in us. Maybe I should get a spray tan. When I’m 60 years old I’ll look like I’m 30. So I don’t worry. I won’t look like some of those gucci bags, like some of those people in Arizona.