Trio of Enforcer Deaths Puts Spotlight on NHL Fighting

Wade Belak third NHL tough guy to die this year
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2011 4:43 AM CDT
Trio of Enforcer Deaths Puts Spotlight on NHL Fighting
Florida Panthers right wing Wade Belak, left fights with Minnesota Wild left wing Derek Boogaard during an NHL game in 2008. Both men died this year.   (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

(Newser) – A trio of deaths has put the spotlight on the role of tough guys in hockey like never before. Recently retired player Wade Belak was found hanged in a hotel room this week. His death follows that of Rick Rypien, who died in apparent suicide last month, and New York Rangers star Derek Boogaard—widely considered the NHL's most feared player—who died in May from what was determined to be an accidental overdose. Between them, the trio scored just 20 goals in 945 games but racked up more than 2,000 penalty minutes, and the deaths have sparked debate about the role of fighting in hockey and the toll it takes on enforcers, the New York Times finds.

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Retired enforcers say the role is an incredibly stressful one that drives many players to abuse drugs and alcohol. They say more needs to be done to reduce the stigma around players seeking help for personal problems. None, however, say they think the NHL should ban fighting. "If there’s depression when you retire, how bad do you think it’ll be if you take 75 jobs out of the NHL so they can’t even earn a living? You create a bigger problem by trying to fix the problem," former Edmonton Oilers tough guy Georges Laraque tells the Montreal Gazette. (Read more Derek Boogaard stories.)

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