What do I tell Ben about Belak?

This is my little buddy, Ben.

Ben’s a talented young hockey player and a keen fan.

I took this picture of Ben at a Toronto Maple Leafs’ outdoor skate in our neighbourhood a couple of years ago. It was on the home page of Canoe.ca at the time.

Ben’s holding a puck that was tossed over the boards that frigid February day. It’s a great memory for both of us – I got to play the indulgent “uncle” by catching that puck and giving it to him. Ben and his mom and dad and I always loved the fact that Wade Belak threw the puck.

Every Leafs fan loved Belak. As he gradually took over Tie Domi’s role as enforcer, fans came to know what an affable, easy going giant he was off the ice. He was intelligent and funny in interviews, and played along good-naturedly when TSN did a mock documentary about his four-year goalless streak. What a guy.

Belak was the most fun to watch that day at Withrow Park rink. The big kid from Saskatchewan looked completely at home on the outdoor ice surface one of the coldest days that winter. He was all smiles and laughs, as he always seemed to be media interviews.

Wade Belak threw that puck, up over the chain link fence around the boards, and I caught it. A treat for me and a real treasure for Ben. A nice story we’ve often retold.

This morning at the coffee shop, I learned the awful news that Belak had died, of an apparent suicide. The latest tough guy to become a tragic statistic. Looks, brains, build, money, family all in his favour; a career in hockey behind him and a career in broadcasting ahead. What happened?

No one can possibly make sense of it. It’s obvious that the NHL has to get serious about fighting, head injuries, stress and depression among its athletes. We all need to learn more about depression and suicide, to try to understand the potential warning signs. We need especially to support the family, friends and colleagues of those left behind. My heart aches for Wade Belak’s loved ones today.

And I can’t stop thinking to myself, what do I tell Ben about Belak?

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