TORONTO — The mother of former NHL player Wade Belak said Friday that her son had suffered from depression prior to his death.
Belak, an enforcer who had played with five NHL teams before retiring in March, was found dead Wednesday in Toronto. He was 35.
Asked by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Friday if her son suffered from depression, Lorraine Belak said yes.
“I think he was taking control of that,” she said in a phone interview from Nashville. “He didn’t talk about it all the time or a lot.”
“I really don’t know how to answer that. I don’t know about depression,” she added. “I really am uncomfortable talking about that because I just don’t know enough.”
A person familiar with Belak’s death told The Associated Press on Thursday that he hanged himself at a downtown luxury hotel and condo building. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation were confidential.
Private services will be Sunday in Nashville.
Lorraine Belak said the cause of death would be released in the coming days.
“All I know is that it is still under investigation,” she said. “The only thing I can tell you is he did not die of natural causes.”
She said she spoke to her son on Sunday, and there was nothing out of the ordinary with his mood or with the conversation.
She said the family can’t “wrap our heads around” his sudden death.
“He was a great husband, a great father, a wonderful son and we were so proud of him,” she said tearfully.
Belak is the third NHL enforcer found dead since May.
The body of 27-year-old Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets was discovered in August 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.
Belak’s death has ignited a debate about whether the players’ roles as enforcers had any connection to their deaths.
Lorraine Belak said her son wasn’t bothered by being an enforcer and that he often said he would do any role if he was asked to stay in the league.
“As far as any head injuries or things like that, he never had any bad concussions that we know of. He had bumps and bruises of course … but no noticeable (ones),” she said.
“I’m sure he would have loved to have been the goal scorer on the team; however, his size and his toughness, in order to play in the NHL, that’s what he had to.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Don Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players Association, issued a joint statement Thursday saying that while each case is unique the “tragic events cannot be ignored.” They pledged to review the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health programs.
Bettman and Fehr said it’s important to make sure everyone in the NHL is aware of the resources available to those needing assistance, and that both teams and fans should know every option will be pursued to help players in trouble.
“We want individuals to feel comfortable seeking help when they need help,” the statement said.