I grew up in a small town about an hour north of Toronto.
When a tragedy occurred, the community would leave a rose in memory of our neighbour. The display of flowers demonstrating the town’s collective support.
In yesterday’s tragic death of Wade Belak we lost a member of our community.
Many of us knew Wade from our interactions in the living room. We celebrated alongside him as he broke his scoring drought and we chuckled as he gave us his often-humorous post-game thoughts.
As we all reflect on the loss, the day has been spent rekindling old memories, favourite moments and key exchanges, and interchanging them with each other. It reminded me much of those hometown rituals, the flowers laid in memory of one lost.
I’d like to add mine.
I’m not sure which part was more unbelievable; the thought of a professional hockey player wanting to perform the latin dance or the notion they would allow us to look on. Yet there he was, dressed in blue jeans and a long-sleeved red shirt, Wade Belak walked into a downtown dance studio with his wife Jennfier at his side and cameras in tow. It was part of a series called Wade a Minute (the name decided upon after Belak’s own comical suggestion of “The Boring Life Times of Wade Belak” was nay’ed) allowing us all to see behind the curtain of the Maple Leaf.
At one point he almost drops his wife as they practice the final dip. Wade chuckles as he admits he’s having a hard time coordinating his shoulders, hands and feet while attempting to learn the salsa routine. He would later call his awkward dance steps the Saskatoon shuffle, again a testament to the hockey pro’s comedic talent. He may not have not been the best dancer in the room, but he certainly was the funniest.
As I watched along with my brother, Wade in a black fedora and Jennifer in a giant red boa, I saw the effect it had on my sibling. Having never really had the hockey gene – that predisposition to the iced sport that pushes many of us to skate before we can walk – the middle brother of the Hansler brood was immediately attached to the personality displayed. It marked his first real tie to the sport, the first player he followed unconditionally even after trades to both Florida and Nashville.
Belak offered us precisely what we all search for, the ability to relate. He went from being a sports star, one of less than a thousand in the world to be playing at the NHL level, to a neighbour, a father, a husband. He did what all of us do, laugh at himself when put in an awkward situation.
Wade’s comedic timing, friendliness and good nature transcended media and attracted those who watched. It both made a fan out of my brother and became my reason to pursue broadcasting – that hope of connecting the community with the players and together sharing the laughs had away from the rink.
I choose not to remember Belak by yesterday’s events, nor by the pain one can only perceive he experienced, but rather by what he offered; the laughs, the cheers and the pride in our community. I thank him for the fact that my brother can share my passion for the sport, and the resulting influence on my career path.
Now it’s your turn. Which rose do you leave?