Belak death adds to tragic off-season for NHL

Thu Sep 1, 2011 7:56pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - Recently retired NHL tough guy Wade Belak was found dead in a Toronto hotel Wednesday, adding to an off-season of tragedy for the National Hockey League.

Belak, who spent 14 fight-filled seasons in the league, becomes the third NHL enforcer to die suddenly in the last four months, raising concerns about a possible link between the deaths and the players' tough guy roles.

Winnipeg Jets center Rick Rypien, who battled depression for about a decade, was found dead at his Alberta home earlier this month at the age of 27.

Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers, one of the NHL's most feared fighters, was found dead in May in Minneapolis, the 28-year-old's death ruled accidental and caused by a lethal combination of alcohol and painkillers.

A spokesman at the hotel where Belak was reported to be found on Wednesday had "no comment".

However, as a police investigation continued, the shock of yet another death swept across a hockey community that has been left reeling just as training camps are set to open for a new season.

"The National Hockey League family mourns the passing of Wade Belak, who competed to the utmost every minute of his NHL career," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

"Our hearts go out to Wade's loved ones, his friends, his former team mates and to all who feel the horrible void left by this tragedy."   Continued...

<p>Nashville Predator's Wade Belak celebrates a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during their NHL hockey game in Edmonton in this December 17, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber/Files</p>