With apologies to the producers of this 1978 film, the recent deaths of NHL enforcers Rick Rypien and Derek Boogaard naturally caused a few observers to declare the passing of Nashville Predators RW Wade Belak another example of a concussed/depressed goon-cut-down-too-soon. The Globe & Mail’s Bruce Dowbiggin, however, argues “as Belak’s death was appropriated as a cause célèbre by opponents of hockey fighting and by mental health experts as a learning moment about depression, finding a causative link to either is germane…that link has not been demonstrated yet.”
For the moment, the police continue to describe Belak’s death as an “apparent” suicide. They have said they do not plan to make more details public. Meanwhile, Belak’s mother told the CBC that her son was dealing with depression, although she was vague on details. His family has asked for privacy as it got through Sunday’s funeral in Nashville. But, lacking a definitive cause from police, many media outlets are now backing off linking Belak’s death to their coverage of either hockey fighting, concussions or mental health.
In this void, there also remains a stubborn counter-narrative. Former enforcer and current Hockey Night In Canada analyst P.J. Stock told the Team 990 radio station in Montreal that when the full story comes out it will be seen that Belak’s death was accidental. “Let’s just call it an accidental death right now. But he did die of strangulation,” said Stock, who, like Belak was doing, has performed on CBC’s Battle of the Blades. Stock went on to say that Belak’s death should not be put in the same context as Rypien or Boogaard.