The following article was originally published on the Section 303 website shortly after the death of Wade Belak. I wrote the post out of love, and still tear up when I re-read it. And I laugh. I remember so many good times with Beeler. I have come to believe that maybe instead of losing a friend, I gained a guardian angel.  Last year, I was in Las Vegas with Justin Bradford on August 31. It was an especially difficult time in my life personally and professionally. I went to breakfast alone that morning. At the Flamingo Hotel they mark your table with a playing card.  I went to the buffet. When I returned, the server had marked my table. The card was a 3 of hearts.  I knew right away who was looking down on me.   In the last three years, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of Wade.

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

This is by far, the hardest thing I have EVER had to write, and something I never ever could want to write.  Yesterday, the hockey world lost one of its best ambassadors. Wade Belak, the tough guy who knocked out Donald Brashear, the same Wade Belak that would bend down on knees and high five kids at the arena. Tough as hell on ice, and funny and caring as hell off. Perfect ambassador for the NHL in my mind. Most NHL enforcers or agitators are loved by their home fans, hated by the rest of the league. I don’t think anyone hated Wade, you couldn’t do it. Even players he fought had nothing but the utmost respect for him.

I have a little bit different look at Wade. Most of Nashville, (and every other team he has played with) lost a favorite or likable player. I lost a friend. I first met Wade at one of his Blackstone hockey nights during the 2009-2010 season. Of course I was already a fan of his, but that was my first radio show visit.  Wade made a comment about wanting to pursue firefighting. So I can’t remember if it was during a break or after the show, but I went up, introduced myself, and started telling him my love of rescue work. We ended up talking extensively that night, and he asked me to come back the next show. Next show I had a T shirt from our department, and a rider request form. I’ll never forget the look on his face. He was so excited at the thought of riding along on our truck, kids on Christmas morning would be jealous of his excitement.

From then on every radio show or appearance, we ended up talking. I had to smile yesterday remembering the Predators Zoo Day last year.  My then 2.5 year old son was playing with a little girl who he had met there. They were running all over the playground there. Just non stop excitement and energy. I was standing off to the side. The woman next to me turned out to be Jennifer Belak, and the little girl’s mom. We were standing watching the kids, and she was like, ”She has too much of her dad in her sometimes!” I kind of laughed at the time, normal motherly comment. Then I hear, “ANDIE MARIE BELAK! YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW OR WE WILL GO HOME!” I was like ohhhhh thats her dad, yeah that’s trouble. Both of us just laughed. Wade ended up introducing me to Jennifer later that afternoon.

I could share stories for hours about Belak and I. Last season we really got closer. When I think of Wade, I really don’t think of his hockey as much as personality. Like the Hardees Community day with Cody Franson last year. Wade wouldn’t let me leave the autograph table, just kept wanting to hear some stories, and a couple times Cody was starting to look a little pale, so then Wade starts telling stories he heard from his firehall or from his dad (a now retired police officer).  I think it was a game to see if Franson would puke or not, we almost won.  Another thing that really stuck out, is after I started painting, and becoming “Big Ben,” Wade would chirp me all the time, but at the same time, he loved it, and he could quote you EXACTLIMG_119600977309544Y what I painted any given night. And the nights he knew my son was with me. He made a point to find us. He would bend down with that big grin, give my little bear a high five, and then they would talk a few minutes—about fire trucks. Wade and I also had a running gag. Starting with the night Mike Fisher was on his radio show, I asked Wade if he would take my picture with Mike. At first he was like yeah we can all take a pic, I was like, “no no I am here alone, will you take my camera and get a picture of me and Mike?” And he did, the laughter and shock of the crowd was great. Then at the arena, I generally am found around section 310 at intermission, and Wade would come say hi leaving the media room every night. One night I asked Wade to take a pic of me and someone. All the media stopped and stared. And yet there was Belak just laughing about it. So many stories but if you have read this far, I won’t torture you any more.

In the coming days no matter what comes out, here is my plea. Don’t just remember Wade Belak the hockey enforcer. Remember Wade, the husband to Jennifer. The dad to Andie and Alex. The dad who even had his daughter with him during the Skate of the Union. Remember Wade Belak, who loved not just making others laugh, but helping those in need. Wade wanted to be a firefighter so bad,he wanted to do it all, Fire, EMT School. Not nescessarily as a second career as much as a way to give back.   That’s the Wade I will remember. And if you ever want a good laugh look me up, Wade left me with plenty of those, and I would be glad to share.

“Sometimes it makes me sad, though… The place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend. ” – Morgan Freeman as “Red”,  Shawshank Redemption