Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wade Belak's death continues a disturing trend

Wade Belak becomes the third NHLer with a history of fighting to pass away since May. Derek Boogaard, just 28, of the New York Rangers was found dead in his Minnesota apartment on May 13 with the cause of death later determined as an accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone toxicity. On August 15, Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien was found dead in his Alberta home at 27. Belak, a 15-year NHL veteran who announced his retirement in March, was found dead in his Toronto condo early Wednesday afternoon. He was just 35. Cause of death is still unknown.

Is it just a coincidence that 3 enforcers have died suddenly in just 3 months? Maybe. But both the NHL and NHLPA should be taking note. It has already been taking well documented the toll both physically and psychologically that fighting has on NHL players. No one aspires to be an NHL enforcer. No mother relishes watching their son batter an opponent or taking a beating. All enforcers were star players at one point in their hockey career. When you hit the wall in your development and you have the size, well you do what you have to do to stay in hockey.

Fighting takes a physical toll on enforcers. It's inevitable that you get hurt and the incidence of addiction to pain killers and other drugs is high. What you don't see are the emotional and psychological scars. Some fighters begin to avoid fights and before you know it their NHL career is over. Veteran enforcers become targets for younger guys who want to make a name for themselves.

I sometimes think that eliminating fighting from hockey would be a good thing because the marginal players could no longer be coerced into being an enforcer. If they don't have the talent to be an NHLer so be it.

Hard to believe both these guys are gone.

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