Report: Wade Belak hanged himself

TORONTO -- 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 afternoon in Toronto. He was 35.

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 Aug. 15 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.

"It's not only about the deaths, it's the deaths that surround similar type players," Craig Button, the general manager of the Calgary Flames when Belak played there early in his career, told The Canadian Press. "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.

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

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who said after Rypien's death that the league would review its substance abuse and behavioral health programs, released a joint statement Thursday with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, saying "these tragic events cannot be ignored."

"Everyone at the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association is profoundly saddened by the loss, within a matter of a few weeks, of three young men, each of whom was in the prime of his life.

"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," the statement continued.

"It is important to ensure that every reasonable step and precaution is taken to make NHL Players, and all members of the NHL family, aware of the vast resources available to them when they are in need of assistance. We want individuals to feel comfortable seeking help when they need help."

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.

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.

Mike Gillis, general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, told the Canadian Press 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."

Brad May, a former Toronto Maple Leaf and now a SportsNet analyst, was going to compete against Belak on the CBC show "Battle of the Blades."

Belak was in Toronto for the show, but he and his family lived in Nashville.

"I'm sick and I'm sad about Wade Belak. A phenomenal guy . . . Wade was going to skate for a charity that supported a foundation for one of his daughters," May told SportsNet after he learned Belak had died. "He talked to us the other day about his children -- his two daughters -- and his wife, how excited they were about this. And how much -- 'cause we talked about our kids -- how much he loved them. I'm sick about it."

Last week, Belak was on The FAN960 in Calgary and mentioned he was fortunate to not have had any concussions during his playing career, and that he felt good.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.