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Wade Belak: A Walking, Talking, Punching Contradiction

This is a short piece I wrote for The Herald on the untimely passing of Wade Belak.

I've been reading some of the things being reported about how he died, and honestly, I'm done for the night. I am still in shock.

Anyway, thought some of you all might want to read this. So here you go:

BY GEORGE RICHARDS/grichards@MiamiHerald.com

Wade Belak enjoyed being a walking contrast. An imposing figure at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he loved the stares he got as he pulled himself out of the Mini Cooper he drove around South Florida. 

One of the top fighters in the NHL – his vicious punch once cracked an opponent's helmet – Belak always had a smile on his face, the first to scoop up a teammate's child when they visited the locker room. Everyone, it seemed, loved the big redhead from Saskatoon.

Belak, who played parts of two seasons with the Florida Panthers, was found dead at the age of 35 on Wednesday afternoon in Toronto.

“He was as friendly and nice a person as I have ever met,'' said Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos. Santos brokered the deal with the Panthers to bring Belak to Nashville when Santos served in that same capacity with the Predators on Thanksgiving Day in 2008.

“He would give you the shirt off his back. He did so much for kids and our community. He was wonderful. I'm shocked. I'm sad. I don't know what to say. It's a real shame. He's the best.''

Belak played for Colorado, Calgary, Toronto, the Panthers and Nashville. The Predators waived Belak this past season and he decided to retire after clearing waivers.

Belak, who played in 32 games with the Panthers with no goals nor assists, played in a total of 549 NHL games. Belak served as a commentator for Predators radio during the 2011 postseason and was scheduled to take part in the Canadian reality series 'Battle of the Blades.'

Belak's cause of death has not been determined. Wade Belak is survived by his wife Jennifer and their children Andie and Alex. 

“Wade was a beloved member of the organization, a terrific teammate and wonderful father and husband,'' the Predators said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed.''