BOLTON, Mass. -- Boston Bruins forward and enforcer Shawn Thornton does not think there's any connection between the three NHL players who died this summer and the roles they played during their careers.
NHL tough guys Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak all died prematurely and there's been plenty of discussion this summer regarding what the league and players' association should do to protect its players.
Some have even suggested that fighting should be banned from the sport, but Thornton is not among them.
"No. No. And it kinda f------ pisses me off that people take this opportunity to try to exploit a certain part of the game," Thornton said. "Those are very sad instances and I don't think exploiting a part of the game is the right way to go. I think we should remember the people as the men they were and not what they did for a living."
Belak was found dead Aug. 31 at a luxury condo and hotel building in Toronto.
A person familiar with Belak's death told The Associated Press that he hanged himself.
He was the third NHL enforcer to die this offseason. Boogaard, a forward for theNew York Rangers, died in May as a result of an accidental overdose of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone. Rypien, of the Winnipeg Jets, died two weeks prior to Belak in what authorities called a "sudden and non-suspicious" death.
The NHL and the NHL Players' Association issued a joint statement Thursday in response to the loss of three of its players in the span of one offseason.
The statement read in part: "While the circumstances of each case are unique, these tragic events cannot be ignored. 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."
Along with Boogaard, Rypien and Belak, former NHL player and Harvard standout Tom Cavanagh was found dead in a Providence parking garage in January, and police have characterized his death as a suicide. He had battled mental health issues in recent years.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.