Wade Belak's mother struggles with son's death

Wade Belak's mother said on Friday that the family is having a difficult time coming to terms with the hockey player's death earlier this week in Toronto at the age of 35.

Private services to be held Sunday in Nashville

Wade Belak's mother said on Friday that the family is having a difficult time coming to terms with the hockey player's death earlier this week in Toronto at the age of 35.

Lorraine Belak told CBC News the family can't "wrap our heads around" his sudden death.

"He was a great husband, a great father, a wonderful son and we were so proud of him," she said, her voice choked with emotion.

Belak said she spoke to her son on Sunday, three days before he was found dead in a downtown condo, and there was nothing out of the ordinary with his mood or with the conversation.

Belak's death Wednesday shocked hockey observers for a number of reasons: the recently retired player was one of the most gregarious in recent years, and he had seemingly ensured that his immediate transition to life after hockey would be smooth.

He was to be a competitor on the third season of CBC's Battle of the Blades and had lined up work as a broadcaster with the Nashville Predators, the final club he played for in his career.

NHL players Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien also died this summer. Boogaard, 28, was found dead of an accidental overdose, while the 27-year-old Rypien had sought help in the past for depression.

Had battled depression

Lorraine Belak confirmed a Toronto Star report that her son had suffered from depression, but it is not clear what help he sought or how recently it was an issue.

"I think he was taking control of that," she said, admitting that they didn't talk about the subject a lot.

Toronto police are treating the death as a suicide, sources have confirmed to CBC.

Belak said it was her understanding that the investigation is not yet complete.

"I guess in the next few days things will come out, but right now, that's all I can tell you," she said.

While all three players could be described as enforcers who earned much of their ice time due to a willingness to drop the gloves at a moment's notice, it is not yet fully known if that role had any connection in the events leading to their deaths.

"I'm sure he would have loved to have been the goal scorer on the team; however, his size and his toughness — in order to play in the NHL — that's what he had to," she said.

Belak said her son wasn't bothered by being an enforcer and that he often said he would do any role asked just to stay in the league.

"As far as any head injuries or things like that, he never had any bad concussions that we know of — he had bumps and bruises of course — but no noticeable concussions that we know of," she added.

The NHL and the players association have pledged to fully understand the circumstances of each death so as to make any needed changes to their support programs for active and retired players.

Belak's wife, Jennifer, released a statement Thursday, saying she was deeply touched by the outpouring of condolences.

"This loss leaves a huge hole in our lives and, as we move forward, we ask that everyone remember Wade’s infectious sense of humour, his caring spirit and the joy he brought to his friends, family and fans," she said in part.

Belak is also survived by his two young children.

Private services will be held for Belak Sunday in Nashville.