There have been three very sad deaths in the hockey community in the last four months. Two of them were guys from Saskatoon. One of them, I'd actually met.
The death of Wade Belak hits pretty close to home. Within a block, in fact. I can't tell you what I was dressed as for Halloween in 1991, but I can tell you who opened the door we knocked on at the seventh house. Hushed and excited whispers as we walked away.
I watched him play I don't know how many games with the Saskatoon Blades, our hometown junior hockey team. He was a solid player, and only retired from the NHL this March, after playing with a number of teams, the Maple Leafs being one of them. My father told stories about going with him to the children's ward at one of the hospitals in town and seeing Wade get mauled by kid after kid, a human jungle gym, staying for hours until the nurses finally sent him home... We were talking about him just this past Sunday before dinner, about how we might actually have to watch Battle of the Blades (Dancing with the Stars on-ice for ex-hockey players) this year because he was going to be competing. There's no doubt in my mind that he'd have won. He was a favourite in town and a favourite in the hockey world. And I have never heard anyone say a negative word about him whenever his name came up.
I was driving home yesterday afternoon when I heard the news. It's all kinds of horrible. Today, everywhere I went, the air was filled with "Did you hear...?" and "What?!? No... That's so sad..." and people telling stories about him. My heart goes out to his family, along with prayers - if my heart broke, I can't imagine how devastating it is for those who were close to him. I wish them healing and hope they find solace. I hope they know he will be missed by many.
Rest in Peace, Wade.