Wade Belak: The Life of an NHL Enforcer

Friday, 04.23.2010 / 2:02 AM / Features
Nashville Predators
Just because you haven’t seen him yet in the postseason, doesn’t mean he isn’t playing a crucial role for the team behind the scenes
By Amanda Brooks

Wade Belak wants fans to know one thing about being an NHL enforcer: it’s not easy.

“People think enforcers are dumb goons and all we do is fight, and I think a lot of hockey players get that can of reputation. Really, we’re the luckiest guys in the world. We get to spend every day getting paid to do something we dreamed about as kids. How many people really get that opportunity?”

Belak’s opportunity started when he was growing up in Saskatchewan, learning to skate about a year before he started organized hockey. It took nearly a decade after that to assume his role as an NHL enforcer.

“I don’t know if anyone loves being the enforcer. It’s a pretty hard job. If I could choose between being an enforcer or scoring 50 goals a year, I’d go with scoring 50 goals a year.”

Belak’s experience as an enforcer in the NHL has paid off in that he can still handle the NHL’s most physically taxing job at the age of 33.

“A lot of guys don’t last 15 years and I’m not saying that I’m unusual, but I’ve just tried to take the best care of myself that I can. I came in as a defenseman and a lot of the teams were deep on defense, so in Toronto was when I got into being an enforcer and being a forward. I think what’s good is that I have the experience to be on offense or defense and help out wherever I can.”

Belak’s versatility makes him one of Nashville’s most valuable players, according to Nashville Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz.

Belak At a Glance
Favorite Player:
“Dave Manson (1,103 NHL games with 7 teams
from 1986-2002) was my favorite player growing
up. He is a Saskatchewan native as well and I
just love the way he played. I tried to model my
game after him when I was a kid. We’re both
defensemen, we both fight, both play tough. He’s
a bit bigger than I was, but he definitely played a
huge part in the way that I model my game.”

His interpretation of the Enforcer’s Code:
“Usually when a guy goes down in a fight, you
don’t hit him, the fight is over. No cheap shots,
no biting, no pulling hair, and no eye gauging.
Otherwise, fight on.”

Pre-game ritual:
“My pre-game ritual, as anyone who works for
the Preds sees, is soccer. I love soccer. David
Beckham is my favorite player. He’s really the
only player I know, but really, he’s the only player
anyone needs to know. Music is another good
pre-game ritual.”

What he wants fans to know about him:
“I’m just a nice guy who loves my family, hockey
and goofing around with my teammates. Playing
soccer before the game is one of my favorite parts
of my game day, but I also really enjoy being at
home with my family.”
“The amazing thing about Wade is his hockey IQ. Because he’s been in the game so long and played on offense and defense, he can really be a mentor and a leader to our younger players,” Trotz said. “Heading to the playoffs, we need guys like Wade to balance the emotions and the intensity some of the younger guys are feeling and I can’t think of anyone better to do that. He’s a fun-loving guy off the ice, which helps the guys’ nerves. He’s a dedicated workhorse on the ice, which keeps everyone energized and ready.”

For Belak, being an enforcer in the playoffs allows him to keep a reign on everyone’s emotions and their roles on the ice.

“I think when it comes to the playoffs, there’s still fighting, but it comes down more to emotion. It’s a whole new season and you’re just basically going around and fighting because you’re genuinely mad about something that happened, not just because some punk did something that irked you.”

“The thing about playoffs is that they are so intense and you don’t want to have your best scorer or a great blue liner taken out because they didn’t know what they were doing in a fight. Let your enforcers handle it and we’ll leave the scoring to them…though I wish I felt the glory of scoring more often. There’s a lot of glory to winning a good fight and standing up for your teammates, as well.”

Belak laughs, “The games I scored in were my favorite games. I’ve had some good fights, but if anyone ever asked me my favorite game, it would have to be games that contributed to the eight goals I’ve scored in the NHL. I remember every one.”

Belak also remembers some good fights in his 15 years in the NHL, including his first, against Scott Levins who was with Ottawa when Belak was with Quebec.

As for his toughest fights? Belak is up for anything, but notes that his toughest fights are the ones that are the most even.

“Anyone who is the same height or bigger than I am, those are my hardest fights. It’s easier to pick on someone who’s smaller or shorter, but I’m always up for a challenge. Steve MacIntyre from Florida throws the hardest punch of anyone I’ve ever fought, without a doubt.”

Belak has racked up quite a few fights over his 15-year tenure in the NHL. When told he just received his 123rd fighting major, he couldn’t believe it.

“I never really thought about getting that many fighting majors. Are you sure it’s that many? Wow, I guess just being in the league this long, the fights kind of add up. I just go out on the ice, protect my teammates, and do my job. If the opportunity arises, I fight, but it’s (having over 100 fighting majors) not something I really aspired to do.”

Belak has some pretty strong opinions when it comes to the role of the enforcer and how fighting should be regulated by the league.

“The issue of guys getting hurt was a big deal last year and they talked about that at the NHL meetings last summer. My big problem, and something other enforcers can probably agree upon, is that the fighting only gets dangerous when someone loses a helmet. I would like to see the refs and the League legislate to where they stop the fight when the helmet comes off, just like they do when a jersey comes off. I think that, otherwise, they should just let us fight.”

“I think that if there were more regulations for the enforcer, you wouldn’t see these little guys running around trying to pick fights with no consequences. That’s when people really get hurt. If they would allow enforcers to police the ice ourselves, there would be less cheap hits, less people getting injured, and more fun for the fans. I mean, fights would not get broken up so fast if there were two people fighting who actually knew what they were doing and knew the terms of the fight. Guys going around trying to get cheap shots ruin what enforcers are trying to do: protect our teammates.”

And protecting his teammates is exactly what he’ll continue to do as the team prepares for Game Four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight at Bridgestone Arena. He’s confident in his teammates and thinks that, despite the youth of many of his Nashville cohorts, the Predators will exceed expectations.

“Basically, we just can’t change the way we’ve been playing up until this point, because the playoffs has a lot more hype and is a lot more nerve-wracking, but you have to do the same thing you did before: win. You have to do what makes you the player you are and not worry about it. You have to enjoy this; you’re in the playoffs and you have to cherish the time you’re in it. This is my first Stanley Cup Playoffs in six years and you can bet I’ll cherish every moment.”

Belak has cherished every moment of his 15-year career and he hopes to continue fighting even after his hockey career is over… fighting fires that is.

“After I’m done with hockey, I want to become a firefighter. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. When I was little, all I wanted was hockey and firefighting. I’ve got to do one of those and it will be good to have something to pursue when I’m done. I’d love to be involved with hockey in some way when I’m done, as well, but probably not coaching. I’m married with kids and that’s just too much uncertainty and too many hours at the office. But maybe being a broadcaster or radio host would be a great way to continue being around hockey.”

No matter what Wade Belak chooses to do once his playing career is over, his teammates and coaches are more than indebted to the protection and energy he brings to the ice as an enforcer.

“I’d like to think my energy can get us through tough games. I think fights can change the game, change the momentum.”

Trotz added, “Wade is a playmaker, plain and simple. Those plays might not be goals, but they set us up to succeed. I think you’ll see that in the playoffs. Wade is ready to set a standard for what a true NHL enforcer is: a protector. He protects his teammates and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

I think it is easy to say that the fans are also grateful for the energy Belak brings to the ice each night. Belak reciprocates that thought by noting that “the Nashville fans are one of my favorite parts about playing here. I know they’ll be with us every step of the way during the playoffs and I hope we can prove to everyone that we shouldn’t be underestimated.”

Not only should the Predators not be underestimated, but the fire, fight and determination Wade Belak brings to the ice every night proves the enforcer is a much-needed addition to any playoff team’s lineup… and should never be underestimated.
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