Wade Belak

What the NHL and NHLPA should learn from a year filled with tragic death


There’s no way to be able to wrap your head around what’s happened off the ice in the hockey world this year.

Since the start of 2011 we’ve seen four tragic deaths. Sharks minor leaguer Tom Cavanaugh, Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard, former Canucks tough guy Rick Rypien, and now recently retired scrapper Wade Belak. Of those four, three of them are believed to be suicides (Rypien’s cause of death is still yet unknown while Belak’s is suspected to be a suicide) and Boogaard’s came thanks to a toxic mix of painkillers and alcohol all stemming from being upset with missing time thanks to post-concussion syndrome.

We’re not here to hypothesize on what caused these young men to reach that dark place where killing their body with toxins or taking their own life seemed like the right answer to the situation they were in. Doing that is a folly. Trying to figure out if the life of an NHL tough guy or a concussion victim leads to being consumed by the saddest of sad thoughts is too much for people not in the know to speculate on. While you could draw conclusions with a guy like Rypien, using the same methodology for a guy like Belak doesn’t make sense. We just don’t know what made these guys tick and that’s part of the frustration in dealing with their untimely deaths.

What needs to be looked at is how the NHL and the NHLPA are trying to take care of their troubled souls. Former NHL tough guys Tyson Nash and Matthew Barnaby took to Twitter to point the finger at the NHLPA for not helping players prepare for their post-career lives. In Belak’s case, this makes some sense although Belak wasn’t lacking in opportunity post-hockey. Belak was set to be a rinkside reporter for Predators broadcasts and was also set to compete on CBC’s Battle of the Blades celebrity figure skating competition.

The fact here remains that pro hockey players are guys that have been playing since childhood and have known a professional schedule lifestyle that consisted of virtually nothing but hockey. When it comes time to retire or if you’re forced out of the game by injury, it’s a colossal culture change for players which sometimes leaves guys feeling lost.

It’s the sort of situation that makes you think of the character Brooks from the film “The Shawshank Redemption.” After so many years on the inside of prison, when he was set free he became a lost soul unable to adapt to a new way of life on the outside. That’s not to say that the hockey lifestyle is like a prison, just that when everything you’ve ever known is thrown into disarray, if you’re not ready for it you can be left feeling swamped over.

Whether it comes from preparing players for their post-career lives, helping them with substance abuse, or getting them help when it feels like there’s no way out of the darkness that’s enveloping their lives being proactive to let the players know there’s help when they need it is the absolute least they can do and it has to start early.

The NFL and NBA hold rookie symposiums for incoming players to help them better prepare for the perils of being a professional athlete. Having the NHLPA and NHL work together to let players know that there is a program in place to help (the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program) can get the word out early and let it be known that help is there if needed. Whether the problems stem from abusing alcohol or pain killers, the assistance is there.

With depression is one of the most personal and most private mental illnesses, teaching players early on what the signs of it are and that reaching out for help when it’s needed. That’s not nearly enough to help those who are depressed, but doing something is better than doing nothing. Depression is such a difficult thing because even with proper counseling and a great circle of friends, it still might not be enough to save someone from their thoughts. Ignoring it, however, is not an option.

With  so much sadness and so many questions left unanswered for those players and their families, the time is now for the NHL and NHLPA to work together and make sure that sadness and avoidable tragedy will not happen in the future. One death is one too many, four is a sign of a much larger problem that must be addressed.

Goalie nods: Domingue has ‘got to play better’ for Coyotes tonight in Brooklyn

Louis Domingue
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Pressure’s on, Louis Domingue.

Domingue, now Arizona’s No. 1 goalie with Mike Smith (lower body) shelved indefinitely, will get another chance to prove himself when the Coyotes visit the Isles at Barclays on Friday night.

Things haven’t gone great for Domingue thus far.

Since coming on in relief of Smith in Ottawa, the 24-year-old has allowed seven goals on 30 shots in just over 36 minutes of action — leaving him with a ghastly .767 save percentage and 11.35 GAA.

(Not a typo. Eleven. Point. Three. Five.)

“He’s gotta play better,” coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “He’s gotta play better than these two games he’s played. We’ll give him another opportunity, and hopefully he responds.”

The Coyotes haven’t provided a health update on Smith, who was flown back to Arizona earlier this week to be examined by team doctors. Justin Peters was recalled from the minors to serve as Domingue’s backup and looked sharp in relief of Domingue last night in Montreal, stopping 23 of 24 shots faced.

As such, Domingue has plenty on the line tonight. Peters is a 30-year-old veteran with over 80 games of NHL experience, so the Coyotes could turn to him if Domingue struggle yet again.

For the Isles, Jaroslav Halak gets the call in goal.


Corey Crawford starts yet again for the Blackhawks, who are in Columbus to face the Blue Jackets. Sergei Bobrovsky will be in the opposing goal.

Pekka Rinne, sporting a 2.04 GAA and .934 save percentage thus far, gets the nod as the Preds head to Detroit. Petr Mrazek will be in goal for the Red Wings, after Jimmy Howard played well in a Wednesday win over the Rangers.

Brian Campbell won’t be a healthy scratch, after all

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01:  Brian Campbell #51 of the Chicago Blackhawks participates in warm-ups before a preseason game against the St. Louis Blues at United Center on October 1, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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It seems Brian Campbell won’t be a healthy scratch, after all. According to the Chicago Tribune, the veteran Blackhawks defenseman is likely to be in the lineup tonight in Columbus.

It had previously been reported that Campbell would sit against the Blue Jackets, making way for the return of Trevor van Riemdsyk. Instead, the Tribune believes van Riemsdyk will replace either Michal Kempny or Gustav Forsling, though it’s also possible the ‘Hawks could dress seven defensemen.

As for winger Marian Hossa, he will definitely not play tonight due to a lower-body injury suffered Tuesday against the Flyers, the same game in which he scored his 500th career goal. Hossa is also questionable for Saturday’s home game against Toronto.

At this morning’s skate, Jonathan Toews was centering Tyler Motte and Richard Panik, with Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov, and Patrick Kane sticking together on the second line.

Here’s Coach Q’s scrum from yesterday:

Tinordi on waivers as his 20-game suspension for PEDs comes to an end

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 03:  Jarred Tinordi #28 of the Arizona Coyotes fights with Nick Ritchie #37 of the Anaheim Ducks during the third period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on March 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 5-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With his 20-game suspension finally set to end, Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jarred Tinordi has reportedly been placed on waivers.

Tinordi, 24, was suspended late last season for violating terms of the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances agreement. He said he “did not knowingly take a banned substance,” but accepted the ban and vowed to “work hard towards my return to the ice.” After he misses tonight’s game in Brooklyn, he’ll have served 20 games.

A former first-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, Tinordi has spent most of his pro career in the AHL, though he does have 54 games of NHL experience. The big blue-liner was traded to Arizona in January, part of a controversial three-team swap that saw John Scott, the All-Star, sent to the Habs.

Tinordi played seven unremarkable games for the Coyotes before he was suspended. He’ll presumably be assigned to their AHL affiliate in Tucson should he clear waivers.

Related: NHL has ‘no reason to believe…the Canadiens acted inappropriately’ in Tinordi trade

Rookie d-man Carlo has ‘impressed the heck’ out of Bruins

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 15:  Brandon Carlo #25 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game on October 15, 2016 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Bruins 4-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

It’s fair to say optimism about Boston’s blueline was tempered heading into this season.

Really tempered.

GM Don Sweeney’s search for a ‘transitional’ defenseman never panned out. Neither did the PTO for veteran rearguard Christian Ehrhoff. So the B’s went into this year with nearly the exact same defense they had last year — a defense that Sweeney admitted was a “work in progress.”

Which is why Brandon Carlo’s emergence is a big deal.

Carlo, the 19-year-old rookie, has been a revelation. He’s scored two points through four games, and done so while shouldering a pretty significant workload — 21:54 TOI per night, second on the team to Zdeno Chara.

“He’s impressed the heck out of us,” head coach Claude Julien said on Friday, per the Bruins’ Twitter account.

Julien’s faith in Carlo goes beyond words. In last night’s 2-1 win over New Jersey, Carlo was put out in the final minutes with Cory Schneider pulled for an extra attacker.

“He gave me no reason not to put him out there,” Julien said.

There’s plenty to like about Carlo. He’s got terrific size — 6-foot-5, 200 pounds — and shown maturity well beyond his years and professional experience, having played just seven AHL games prior to making his NHL debut.

Boston has to be thrilled.

Remember, the club is pretty old on defense. Chara is 39, John-Michael Liles is 36, Adam McQuaid is 30 and Kevan Miller turns 29 in November.

Though the team does have some intriguing young d-man prospects in the system — including first-rounders Charlie McAvoy and Jakub Zboril — they’re not expected to make an impact at the big-league level for a while.

Of course, neither was Carlo.

Injuries to McQuaid and Miller fast-tracked the former WHL Tri-City standout, and he’s made the most of the opportunity. His teammates have certainly been impressed.

“He’s a great defenseman,” goalie Tuukk Rask said, per the Boston Herald. “Very poised out there, and he positions himself well.”

“He’s been playing phenomenal right now,” added Brad Marchand. “He’s stepped up.”