Wade Belak RIP
The game of hockey suffered a major loss on August 31, 2011 as it was announced that former NHL player Wade Belak had passed away at the age of 35. Known as one of the game’s toughest performers during his pro career, he will be missed by all whose lives he touched.
“On behalf of all of our staff, we extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Wade during this difficult time.” said In The Game’s President, Dr. Brian H. Price. “He had a solid reputation as one of hockey’s tough customers and one of hockey’s nicest guys. We were incredibly pleased when, only last month, Wade joined the In The Game team to be part of our upcoming Enforcers product.”
Wade Belak was born July 3, 1976 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. At the age of six, his family moved to Battleford, Saskatchewan where he would attend St. Vital Elementary School.
At Battleford Junior High, he was showing signs of becoming a great athlete and participated in several sports including volleyball, track and field, badminton and basketball.
After school, he spent his time at the local swimming pool and ice hockey arena. At age 14, he was on his way to becoming a certified lifeguard; however, hockey was his priority. At the time, he played competitive hockey at the AA level.
After playing with the AAA Midget North Stars the next year, he was selected by the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League. He attended his first Blades training camp and made the team; however, Belak felt that he was not experienced enough for the WHL and decided to play another season at the AAA level with the Midget North Stars.
This proved to be a great decision for Belak as he enhanced his skills and developed into a better hockey player. The following season, he rejoined the Blades and had an incredible rookie season as they faced the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL Finals, only to lose in seven games.
In the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Belak was selected 12th overall by the Quebec Nordiques. He chose to play two more seasons with Saskatoon before he joined Quebec’s American Hockey League farm team, the Cornwall Aces. After the club relocated to Hershey, he played for the Bears for two seasons and was part of a Calder Cup-winning team.
On December 21, 1996, Belak was called up by the Colorado Avalanche and played his first NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began the 1997-1998 season with Colorado and recorded his first two NHL points, a goal and an assist, on October 22, 1997 against the Washington Capitals.
Late in the 1998-99 season, he was involved in a blockbuster trade involving the Calgary Flames. The Flames received Belak, along with his teammates Rene Corbet and Robyn Regehr plus a conditional draft pick in exchange for Chris Dingman and Theoren Fleury.
He became a member of the Calgary Flames on March 27th, 1999 and he would register his first point (an assist) as a member of the Flames on April 1, 1999 against the Phoenix Coyotes.
In the 1999-00 season was filled with excitement for Belak as he began the season with the AHL’s Saint John Flames. He was eventually called up and played 40 games with Calgary. Even though he saw limited action, he led the team in penalty minutes (122) and also averaged 7:33 minutes of ice time that season.
After playing 23 games with the Flames during the 2000-2001 campaign, he was placed on waivers and picked up by the Maple Leafs. His Toronto debut came on February 17, 2001.
Belak had a successful 2001-2002 season as he finished second on the team in penalty minutes (142) and set a career high in games played (63) along with playing his first NHL playoff game against the New York Islanders. In that series, he scored his first career playoff goal. His momentum continued in 2002-2003 and he led the Maple Leafs in penalty minutes (196) while setting career highs in goals, assists, points, and penalty minutes. The 2003-2004 season was filled with disappointment as he missed a total of 38 games due to injury in addition to being suspended for eight games for a high-sticking incident.
During the NHL lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season, Belak decided to play in Europe for the Coventry Blaze in the Elite Ice Hockey League. He suited up for a total of 42 games and chipped in 17 points and also added a physical presence by racking up 178 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he added a goal and an assist and sixteen penalty minutes to help lead the Blaze to a grand slam title.
In preparation for the 2005-2006 NHL season, Belak signed a two-year contract with the Maple Leafs. He suffered through two disappointing seasons with nagging injuries and eventually was traded to the Florida Panthers. He spent two injury-plagued seasons there and was traded to the Nashville Predators in 2008-09.
Nashville was Belak’s final NHL team. After playing in 15 games during the 2010-11 season, he was placed on waivers on February 25, 2011. Going unclaimed, he was assigned to the Nashville’s AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, but decided to retire instead and remained with the Predators in an organizational role .
In his personal life, he married Jennifer Jordan Russell in 2002. The couple has two wonderful daughters; Andie Marie and Alex Grace.