NHL

Report: Wade Belak hanged himself

Wade Belak, Nashville Predators
Wade Belak played 14 seasons in the NHL.
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TORONTO (AP)

Former NHL player Wade Belak hanged himself, according to a person familiar with the case.

Belak, an enforcer who had played with five NHL teams before retiring in March, was found dead Wednesday in Toronto. He was 35.

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The person familiar with Belak's death said he hanged himself at a downtown luxury hotel and condo building. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because details of the investigation were confidential.

''At this point it's non-suspicious,'' Toronto police spokesman Tony Vella said Thursday. ''We will not provide any further information on a non-suspicious case.''

Belak is the third NHL enforcer found dead since May.

The body of 27-year-old Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets was discovered earlier this month at his home in Alberta after a police official said a call was answered for a ''sudden and non-suspicious'' death. Former New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard died in May at 28 due to an accidental mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Don Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players Association, issued a joint statement Thursday afternoon saying that while each case is unique the ''tragic events cannot be ignored.'' They pledged to review the league's substance abuse and behavioral health programs.

''We are committed to examining, in detail, the factors that may have contributed to these events, and to determining whether concrete steps can be taken to enhance player welfare and minimize the likelihood of such events taking place. Our organizations are committed to a thorough evaluation of our existing assistance programs and practices and will make immediate modifications and improvements to the extent they are deemed warranted,'' the statement said.

Bettman and Fehr said it's important to make sure everyone in the NHL is aware of the resources available to those needing assistance, and that both teams and fans should know every option will be pursued to help players in trouble.

''We want individuals to feel comfortable seeking help when they need help,'' the statement said.

Belak's wife, Jennifer, released a statement Thursday night through the Nashville Predators, saying her husband ''was a big man with an even bigger heart.''

''This loss leaves a huge hole in our lives and, as we move forward, we ask that everyone remember Wade's infectious sense of humor, his caring spirit and the joy he brought to his friends, family and fans.''

Private services will be Sunday in Nashville.

Craig Button, general manager of the Calgary Flames when Belak played there early in his career, told The Canadian Press it's not only the deaths that are disturbing, but the deaths of similar players.

''It's not just getting hit in the head, it's everything that goes with that (enforcer) role. I think that people are paying very, very serious attention to concussions and blows to the head and the role of the enforcer,'' Button said.

''I don't think anybody can stop until we really understand the impact it has not only physically, but emotionally as well.''

Mike Gillis, general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, told the CP he expects the role of the enforcer to be re-examined now.

''I'm sure it will have an impact,'' he said. ''I'm sure it will create debate. I know in the case of Rick (Rypien), I don't think we ever felt his role and how he played the game was influential in what happened. Perhaps we are wrong.''

Belak was scheduled to work as a sideline reporter on Nashville television broadcasts this season. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound forward played for Colorado, Calgary, Toronto, Florida and finished his career with Nashville, playing in 549 career NHL games with eight goals, 25 assists and 1,263 penalty minutes.

He fought 136 times during his 14-year NHL career, according to hockeyfights.com.

Tagged: Canucks, Predators, Wade Belak, Rick Rypien

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