One of the NHL’s Darkest Days
August 31st 2011 turned out to be a day the NHL would rather forget.
The tragic passing of Wade Belak shook the hockey world. Tributes have poured in from all corners for one of the modern games greatest and most popular characters. Whilst he was never going to threaten any scoring records, Belak endeared himself to fans all over the NHL, including in Toronto and Nashville, as well as in the UK after a stint with Coventry during the lock out.
A player who knew his role, played with a smile and proved to have a wonderful sense of humour when talking to, well, pretty much anyone! Whether it be the media, fans or other players the surprise and somewhat senseless news of his death left one very dark cloud over the sport.
Unfortunately it was a bitter second blow to the sport, and the league, on Wednesday after it emerged Marc Savard would not be playing next season.
Multiple concussions have curtailed the Boston forwards career over the past few seasons, and it seems doubtful he will ever return. A sad way to end a career, and the effects of his injuries may stay with Savard for the rest of his life.
Whilst Savard’s case may pale somewhat compared to the loss of a life for a fellow pro, the two stories together paint a somewhat ugly picture of some of the darker corners of the NHL right now.
Belak is the third player to lose his life this summer, following Derek Boogard and Rick Rypien. Among the tributes, there were obvious questions and some harsh truths shared.
Former Phoenix forward Tyson Nash pulled no punches as he tweeted:
“You’re entire life is dedicated to hockey and then one day you’re kicked to the curb! And the NHLPA does nothing to prepare you.”
Theo Fleury, a man who has been through some difficult phases of his own, also raised concerns about the use of the highly addictive drug oxycotin. Whilst the cause of Belak’s death remain unconfirmed right now, Fleury’s response touches upon an area of the sport few talk about.
Likewise Savard’s ailing health and likely retirement highlight the damage ‘head shots’ in the NHL can cause and raise questions over what might have been for the former Atlanta forward had things been addressed a long time ago. Instead it seems to be an area the league drags its heels over.
Two incredible sad stories, for different reasons, on one day the league would rather forget.