Tag: tributes


Battle of the Blades opens third season with Wade Belak tribute

While it was clear that ex-enforcer Wade Belak’s NHL career was over, it seemed like he had a lot to look forward to heading into the 2011-12 season. Belak was set to become a sideline reporter during Nashville Predators games and made CBC’s list of participants for its popular reality show Battle of the Blades. Sadly, the hockey world won’t see the well-liked former fighter in either role after his sad death in late August.

The third season of that show began Sunday with a tribute to the fallen fighter, whose spot was eventually filled by Russ Courtnall. The tribute included commentary from his former teammates and opponents along with footage from some early prep work in which Belak prepared for the competition, which pairs former hockey players with figure skaters with the winning duo earning $100K for a charity of their choice. Courtnall will represent Belak’s chosen charity: the Tourette’s Syndrome Neurodevelopmental Clinic at the Toronto Western Hospital.

The Canadian Press describes some of the footage that provided an ode to Belak.

The show began with a message dedicating the show to the memory of Belak, as well as to his wife Jennifer and daughters Alex and Andie.

“This one’s for you Wade,” said host Ron MacLean as the camera moved out to show his No. 3 painted on the ice.

The episode, called ‘Game On,’ documents some of Belak’s last moments as he and the other contestants prepare for the show. His sense of humour is on display as he tries to adjust to figure skates, laughs at May’s frequent tumbles and jokes about competitor Cale Hulse’s hairstyle.

“Every time I fell I’d hear Wade’s little yell, and somewhat of a chuckle at me,” May said. “It was a lot easier having a guy like Wade Belak with you, laughing at yourself.”

More Lokomotiv tributes: Philip McRae gives up 38 in ode to former Blues, Avalanche players react

Semyon Varlamov

Moments ago, we passed along Pavel Datsyuk’s moving tribute to his former Detroit Red Wings teammate Ruslan Salei. While Datsyuk will wear number 24 for the duration of training camp and the preseason in honor of Salei, other NHL players are providing their own odes to those lost.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that St. Louis Blues forward Philip McRae will give up number 38 in honor of two former Blues who died in that tragic plane crash: Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev.

McRae will instead don number 39, which might invite some good natured ribbing from at least one former Blue.

“I just wanted to switch my number just out of respect for both families,” said McRae, who grew up in St. Louis but didn’t know either player on a personal level. “I felt like it was the right thing to do. Obviously, I feel I shouldn’t be wearing it any more after that.”

McRae will wear No. 39, which has been worn by Kelly Chase and Doug Weight among others in St. Louis. “I’m sure once ‘Chaser’ finds out, he’s going to be giving me a hard time,” McRae joked.

That’s a great gesture from McRae, who made his debut with the Blues last season by scoring one goal and two assists for three points with a -10 rating in 15 regular season games. If his early results are any indication, McRae might have a shot at making an impact as number 38. Jeremy Rutherford reports that McRae topped all players at the Traverse City tournament with seven points and also aced the team’s fitness tests.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)


Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov ranks among the many who felt a direct connection to that awful accident. The Russian goalie was a product of the team’s system.

“That was my old team,” Varlamov said softly Friday after undergoing a battery of medical and physical tests at the Pepsi Center in preparation for the first official training camp sessions Saturday.

“I played there for eight years,” he said. “When it happened, I felt I had to go to Yaroslavl and see the fans and the families and everybody. It was a tough time for everybody in Yaroslavl and in Russia. And I’m so sad.”

Sadly, Varlamov isn’t the only Avalanche player who must grapple with the losses of former friends. Winger Milan Hejduk told NHL.com that he knew seven or eight players who died in the crash. Center Paul Stastny shared his memories of Demitra, whom he knew for most of his life because his father Peter played with Demitra in St. Louis and was also a scout for the Blues.

“I was closest to Demitra,” Paul Stastny said. “As a family friend, we’ve known him for 20-plus years. He was one of my role models growing up. ‘Scratch’ (Skrastins) was my roommate my first two years and Rusty (Salei) was my teammate for two years. I think the hardest part is I know their wives and I know their kids. For those kids to grow up without their fathers, who died at such a young age, it’s such a fragile thing. It’s tough to think about.

“I knew Demitra’s wife really well. They lost one kid a couple months after birth and now they’ve lost him. Hopefully they get as much help as possible and get through it, all the families. You realize how important life is. There’s a lot more to life than sports. It’s more about family and friends, and enjoying every second of it.”

Fans, former teammates and foes remember Rick Rypien

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Many people were stunned by the sad news that former Vancouver Canucks tough guy Rick Rypien died at the age of 27. Canucks fans quickly put together plans to mourn his death (or “celebrate his life”) at Rogers Arena on Wednesday, while a makeshift memorial has already been constructed, according to the Vancouver Sun.

While this is by no means a comprehensive collection (there are simply too many recollections and dedications out there), here are a few more articles, Tweets and other items from fans, former teammates and even a few former opponents of Rypien. Feel free to share some of your own favorite stories about the enforcer in the comments.

Former teammates and opponents

Jeff Marek did a great job of collecting some of the most notable Twitter tributes. Here are a handful of the most interesting ones.

Andrew Ladd (@aladd16): Sad to hear about Rick Rypien. I was looking forward to playing with him in Winnipeg. Thoughts are with his family and friends #RIPRypien

Mike Commodore (@commie22): RIP Rick Rypie. He was a warrior. Hit me so hard my eyes couldn’t focus for 30 secs. Not sure if it was a left or right.

Bill Sweatt (@billysweatt): Tragic story. #rickrypien found dead. This is just terrible. RIP rick. You were a great teammate and friend.

Paul Bissonnette (@BizNasty2point0): Just heard the terrible news about Rick Rypien. One of the toughest pound for pound guys in the league. He had no fear. Sad day.

Eric Fehr (@ericfehr): Unbelievably sad news on the passing of Rick Rypien..One of the toughest players I ever played against..Thoughts and prayers with his family

The National Post’s Tim Campbell caught up with Jason Jaffray, Rypien’s former teammate with the both the Canucks and the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. Jaffray seemed to be one of the people who took Rypien’s death the hardest.

“Rick was a guy everybody loved having on his team,” Jaffray said Monday night from his home in Olds, Alta. “You hated to play against him. You loved him in your dressing room because you knew he’d have your back, especially if your top-end guys were run over or taken advantage of. He be the first to step up.

“He cared, and you loved him in there having your back. He was one of those foot soldiers that brings the team together.”

Jaffray also echoed the sentiments of many other players, who found it remarkable that Rypien was willing to fight enforcers who often held massive height and/or weight advantages over him.

Read this post for statements from the Canucks, the Winnipeg Jets (who recently signed him to a one-year contract) and the NHLPA.

Fan reactions

Again, it’s nearly impossible to capture the downpour of emotions from fans regarding Rypien’s death. Here are some of the reactions that we came across in the last several hours, though.

Alixis Wright provided a very personal account of one of her favorite players, whom she gave the unlikely nickname “Mermaid.”

I didn’t know Rypien; not personally. But he was important and special to me in that sort of strange, inexplicable fan with a favourite player kind of way. When I went to training camp in 2009, Rypien sat on the ice to stretch and looked exactly like a mermaid. Mermaid was probably the most ridiculous nickname in history for one of the toughest fighters in the league but that’s what I called him from then on. He was fun to watch, fighting guys much taller and heavier than he was and making it look graceful. He was fast and an underrated passer. I really thought he had the potential to be more than a fighter.

I was so fond of Rypien because in a small way he made me into a tougher person. I’m naturally shy and it hasn’t always been easy to stand up for myself. Rypien always stood up for himself on the ice no matter what the other guy looked like. When I wear my Rypien jersey I feel tough. I stand up taller and I walk with swagger as the kids are saying these days. I can handle myself. It’s silly but it’s true.

Alanah McGinley looks back at Rypien’s leave of absence and struggles with depression.

In all honesty, I don’t know whether Rypien could have ever been a great deal more than the player that he was, but I do firmly believe he was more than just some random tough guy. He voluntarily risked a promising and lucrative career in order to try healing his personal demons.  Living in the public eye—not to mention within the tough-guy culture of hockey—that took a lot of guts.

The NHL isn’t a business that tolerates imperfection well, largely because it doesn’t have to.  While it may sound cruel, there are too many players of Rypien’s skill level to make anyone irreplaceable. But in spite of that, he stepped away from his hockey career more than once in order to take care of himself, and then fought his way back into the business. Literally and figuratively.

Again, these are just two of the fan reactions and a handful of player tributes; there are a lot more out there. Hopefully this gives you a better idea about who Rypien was and what he meant to fans and teammates alike.