TORONTO -- The hockey world was left reeling once again yesterday with the news of former NHL player Wade Belak's death.
Belak was found in a Toronto hotel room with police saying only that his death non-supspicious and that foul play is not suspected.
He is the third NHL tough guy to be found dead in a span of less than four of months. His death closely followed those of Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien and New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard.
Belak leaves behind wife Jennifer and two daughters Andie and Alex. The family will hold a private funeral service in Nashville on Sunday.
"Wade was a big man with an even bigger heart," said Jennifer Belak in a statement. "He was a deeply devoted father and husband, a loyal friend and a well respected athlete.
"This loss leaves a huge hole in our lives and, as we move forward, we ask that everyone remember Wade's infectious sense of humour, his caring spirit and the joy he brought to his friends, family and fans."
Belak, a Saskatoon native had recently retired from the NHL after playing 14 seasons for five different teams. He was a fan favourite during stops in Nashville, Florida, Toronto, Calgary and Colorado. He registered eight goals and 25 assists in 549 career games while amassing 1,263 penalty minutes.
Belak was in Toronto to appear as a contestant on the CBC's "Battle of the Blades" and was scheduled to work on game broadcasts for the Nashville Predators this coming season.
The news of his death sent shockwaves throughout the hockey community.
"I went numb, I was in total shock and disblief," sais Lorne Molleken, Belak's head coach while he was with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL. "He was a man that had a big heart tremendous character and you know it's just tough to take."
Belak was universally liked and described by those who knew him as a fun-loving guy with a positive who always lit up the room.
"He was one of the best," said Cody Fransson, Belak's teammate for two years in Nashville. "He was a guy you look forward to seeing everyday at the rink and he made everybody around him happier."
"He just had such an upbeat attitude and he was always the guy that lightened a situation." said Cory Sarich, a former teammate of Belak's with the Blades who now plays for the Calgary Flames. "I was really shocked yesterday and it's really sad knowing the family he leaves behind."
Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn, a fellow Saskatoon native some 13 years Belak's junior, had a cottage next to Belak's growing up. He recalled how he and his younger brother Brayden, now of the Philadelphia Flyers, looked up to Belak as kids.
"We were little kids, 10-12 years old and he had a street hockey net in his driveway and would invite us over to come shoot with him." Schenn said. "This was before we were even hockey players, we were just little kids looking up to an NHL guy.
"He was the nicest guy."