By Charlie Gillis - Friday, September 9, 2011 - 17 Comments
The night before he was found dead of a suspected suicide, the former NHL enforcer was out on the town and in good spirits
In broadcasting, as in hockey, reliability ranks high on the list of professional virtues. Dead air or squandered studio time are radio sins on par with an empty dressing-room stall before practice. The responsible party can expect retribution and, if he keeps it up, a ticket to the bush leagues.
Some athletes-cum-commentators take a while to grasp that, so the text Wade Belak sent Jeremy Bennefield last Tuesday night came as reassurance to the Nashville radio producer, who had been tasked with grooming the former NHL tough guy to host a weekly show on an all-sports FM station. “I’ll be there on Friday night,” wrote Belak, who was in Toronto at the time. “Staying until Sunday. Any way we can tape a show in that time slot?” The time signature on the message read 11:29 p.m. ET. Bennefield didn’t pick it up until 9:15 a.m. the following day, and he made sure to fire off a quick reply: “Yes, we’ll make it work.”
Three hours later, Belak was found hanging in his hotel room in downtown Toronto, the victim of an apparent suicide (though authorities have not confirmed the cause of death). And Bennefield has been pondering that text exchange ever since.“Somebody actually asked me whether I thought this was a reach-out,” he says from Nashville. “You know: whether Wade was seeking some sort of reassurance that he had something to live for.” But that doesn’t square with the man he had seen at a taping just days earlier, ribbing staff at 102.5 The Game, cracking jokes at his own expense. While recording the inaugural episode of his weekly show and podcast “The Game Changer,” the 35-year-old had enthused about setting down roots in Nashville, where he’d just wound down his playing career. “Based on my conversations with him, based on the texts that I got hours before the fact,” he says, “my impression is this wasn’t a guy looking for a way out.”
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 6:20 PM - 10 Comments
Dear Mats Johan Sundin,
You must be pretty torn up right now about your…
Dear Mats Johan Sundin,
You must be pretty torn up right now about your decision to leave our Leaf Nation family and begin a new relationship with the mountains of British Columbia. I’ll be the first to admit that things fell apart between us in the end: three seasons without a whiff of post-season play, constant family issues that saw several members exiled and publicly scolded, and of course that fruitless pursuit of trying to find someone half decent to play on your wing. The writing was on the wall when you left last spring, then confirmed soon after when you put your house up for sale, again, and disappeared to your fishing boat in Sweden.
Yet I can’t help but feel that you were somewhat dishonest with us, that in some dark corner of your soul during last year’s trade deadline–when you refused to date another to help us through a tough, self-imposed jam in order to provide our family with some draft picks and prospects that we’d squander anyway–you were just playing with our emotions. What I really mean, oh God I’m trembling as I write this, is that I think you lied to us and took advantage of Cliff’s generosity, all the while knowing that you had no interest in returning. You always said that your heart was here, that you loved us and were a Maple Leaf through and through. Apparently that was just a crafty little guise that you brewed up to keep us happy. And to rub it in, last weekend I had to watch you smiling and really laughing it up in the New York Rangers press box during HNIC. I was so mad I threw your bobblehead doll across the room harder than that angry journalist threw his shoe at George Bush.
But I don’t want an apology. You can stick those in a sack. I was stupid enough to have thought that we might be able to pick up the broken pieces of our relationship and that you would come home and lead us back to the promise land, even if our chances of making the playoffs in the near future are as slim as Sean Avery shutting his trap. But I must warn you that somewhere down the line, not too far from now, you will regret what you’ve done. It might not happen this year, especially if your sipping out of Lord Stanley’s mug on the deck of your fishing boat, but mark my words it will happen. You see, Leaf fans are an ignorant, vengeful lot who are led by an incompetent organization that has a weird way of sticking it to its heroes. (Just ask Dave Keon, Darryl Sittler, or your fellow countryman Borje Salming, who told you that he deeply regretted not retiring in a Blue and White jersey).
So what can you expect? Well, for starters you might hear a few boos from the cheap seats when you come to town in February as a member of the Canucks. That shouldn’t hurt much. What will hurt is when the organization decides to retire your number…in 2031…and your invitations to the hall of fame games get lost in the mail. You see, we’ll still love you and call you our own. We just won’t be in any rush to honour your achievements and build statues of you around town.
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, September 8, 2008 at 10:47 AM - 1 Comment
… for two hours, according to a diligent blogger’s account of a public appearance…
… for two hours, according to a diligent blogger’s account of a public appearance Gainey made in St. John’s. If you want to see a rare, useful example of “citizen journalism,” check it out. According to the blogger, known to her readers as J.T., Gainey laid it on the line for Mats during a meeting Saturday in Toronto: ”I told him to make a decision. I said, if you feel like you want to retire, then retire. But if you’re not sure, you should play and the emotion will come.”
By selley - Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 6:41 PM - 0 Comments
A fellow Macleans.ca blogger—a Habs fan who’s well aware of both my love for…
A fellow Macleans.ca blogger—a Habs fan who’s well aware of both my love for the Maple Leafs and my bizarre prejudice against comparing Canada to Scandinavian nations—thought I’d enjoy the following quote in The Province: “Vancouver is so much like Sweden. The culture is similar and so is the physical geography.” Grrrr. That’s Darren Hanson, manager at Ikea in Coquitlam, attempting to lure Mats Sundin to Lotusland with outrageous falsehoods. “We’ll even throw in a free bag of Swedish meatballs for every week he’s in Vancouver,” he says.
You decide, Mats. You decide:
Also, Mats—meatballs in Vancouver are made out of people.
(Photos are the work of Flickr users SqueakyMarmot and boni_zoni. Title translated into Swedish Chef at the Dialectizer.)
By Steve Maich - Monday, June 30, 2008 at 10:58 AM - 0 Comments
La première étoile:… The entire nation of Spain! Viva Espana! Spain Spain Spain! Land
Two minutes for… Indecision. Really Mats, It’s not that hard. I know that the trendy thing to do, these days, is to go all Niedermayer, and spend the summer on a deck someplace, doing a Hamlet impression. But really…you’re a multi-millionaire athlete, and there’s really only one question to answer: do you want to play or not? Kindly come up with an answer while there is still one lonely strand of DNA in my being that gives a crap.
Who’s got tickets? Wimbledon. Big day on the grass courts. So big, in fact, even I have heard of several of the players in action: Federer, Nadal, Murry. And, courtesy of the great sports time machine: The Williams Sisters! I thought they were full time fashion designers by now
Fun police: A swimmer has swum faster than any swimmer before. Splendid. Good for you Michael Phelps. You are the envy of aquatic animals everywhere. But I still share the late, great, George Carlin‘s view. Swimming is not a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning.
Kevin Lowe is quietly building an interesting team in Edmonton. Newest addition Lubo Visnovsky from the L.A. Kings gives them some real fire power on the blueline, especially is Souray can find a way to stay healthy…. Chipper Jones is hitting .394 at the end of June, and is heading for a (hopefully-brief) stay on the DL. Get healthy chipper, and make a run for .400…. Let me say that I love Manny Ramirez. But manny is starting to act even crazier than usual. And it’s not that endearing “isn’t Manny so wonderfully strange?!?” kind of crazy. It’s, like, unstable crazy. If I’m Terry Francona, I want to fix that…. No…No…No…No…Noooo!
By Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze - Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 12:06 PM - 0 Comments
La première étoile:… Brian Colangelo. By sending T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and the Raps
La première étoile: Brian Colangelo. By sending T.J. Ford, Rasho Nesterovic and the Raps first round draft pick to Indiana for Jermaine O’Neal, Toronto has finally acquired a legitimate centre who can absolutely dominate a game. O’Neal is entering the prime of his career and, if he can stay healthy, this trade will most definitely take the Raps to the next level. Let’s hope this ends up better than when Hakeem Olajuwon joined the Raps at the age of 37 and pretty much became nothing more than a cheerleader
Two minutes for … Not knowing when to give up. Jeremy Roenick should head up to the press box instead of signing a contract extension with San Jose. He’ll be 39 next January and is only sticking around to have one last shot at winning a Stanley Cup. Problem is, he kind of sucks now. In each of the past three seasons he hasn’t recorded more than 33 points in an entire campaign and is a woeful -31.
Who’s got tickets? Today’s semi-final game between Spain and Russia. Both teams love to go on the attack and have already made huge impressions at this year’s tournament. They also have a history of completely imploding and falling short of the prize. Who is going to prevail? My gut tells me the Russians are just too fast to be stopped.
Fun police: Just please get this Mats Sundin thing over with. I have a crying booth set up in my basement to deal with his departure, complete with a box of Kleenex, a 60 oz. jug of Jack Daniels and an old Rick Vaive jersey to catch my tears. Oh, one other thing. When Mats finally does go, who the hell is going to be the Leafs first-line centre? Matt Stajan? Yikes.
Extra bases: There’s a very easy way of solving this mysterious war of words that has arisen between the Cincinnati Reds’ Adam Dunn and Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi. All J.P. has to do is check the number of the person who called him and phone it to figure out who placed the call. The fact that he has hesitated to do so is a little weird.
By Charlie Gillis - Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 12:18 PM - 0 Comments
The saga continues. According to this update from TSN’s Bob McKenzie, whose information is…
The saga continues. According to this update from TSN’s Bob McKenzie, whose information is generally solid, Sundin is likely going to wait it out ’til July 1. Contrary to earlier reports (to which we foolishly linked), Bob Gainey has not yet flown to Sweden. He’d just like to.
So we thought we’d catalogue the reasons Mats might not be so eager to join the Habs. Add any you please, within the bounds of good taste (i.e. no franco-baiting):
• Taxes. Players in Quebec pay more than any in the league.
• Habit. He’s spent his life battling the bleu, blanc et rouge, first with the Nords, now with the Leafs. This would be like changing religions.
• Loyalty to the Leafs. Apparently this stuff matters to him, and it sounds like Toronto has made Sundin an offer which he has not yet refused. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, June 23, 2008 at 12:58 PM - 0 Comments
So much has happened, hockey fans. Let’s recap.
• As per last Friday’s post,…
So much has happened, hockey fans. Let’s recap.
• As per last Friday’s post, it turns out the Leafs are so determined not to let Mats skate into the sunset without compensation they dealt “negotiating” rights to him to Bob Gainey and the Habs before the July 1 free-agent signing deadline. Huh? Without a copy of the National Hockey League’s 17,000-page CBA at our fingertips—not to mention legal counsel and six hours to blow—we can only assume this is permitted.
• Essentially, the two teams have a deal in place that would be triggered should Sundin sign with les glorieux before Canada Day. What kind of deal? Good question. But pointier heads suggest it could involve a second-round pick, and/or speedy Habs centre Mikhail Grabovski. Either (or both) represents decent return for a player who has clearly had enough of the Leafs Alternate Dimension—sorry, Nation. It would however mean one of the best -nicknamed lines in history, will never play together again. That would be Alex Kovalev, Grabovski and Andrei Kostitsyn—or, as Habs fans knew them for their brief time together, Kovy-Grabs-Tits.
By Steve Maich - Monday, June 23, 2008 at 12:45 PM - 0 Comments
First Star: I nearly failed grade nine french, and I already have to deal…
First Star: I nearly failed grade nine french, and I already have to deal with the indignity of knowing that the Habs are a solid young team, getting better, while my Leafs are a terrible team committed to get worse before they begin to improve, so excuse me, but on Mondays this section is going to be called “first star.” (Plus, I don’t know how to make accents on this keyboard.) Anyway, the first star today is Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas who led his team to victory over Italy yesterday making several key stops, including the one you’ll see below, and stopping not one but two penalty kicks to decide the game.
[YouTube = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZ9bWkwID00]
Two minutes for: fixing what ain’t broken. Matt stairs tees off on recently-fired hitting coach Gary Denbo. Not nice to dance on a guy’s grave, but Stairs makes an excellent point. One of the keys to coaching is recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of your players and getting them to focus on what they do well. Denbo wanted to turn everybody into Lyle Overbay – working the count and shooting the ball to the opposite field – which might explain why Overbay is one of the guys who appears in the story to defend Denbo.
Anybody got tickets to: Wimbledon. That is, if you like tennis, and white tennis outfits. I like neither, because I think generally tennis is a game played by snobs and private school boys. But I understand the sport is pretty popular, and it’s a slow day in the world of sports, so here you go tennis fans. Have some strawberries with cream, and prepare to watch Roger Federer beat the snot out of everybody…again.
Fun Police: Why, why , why does everybody in Leaf land have their knickers in a knot about Mats Sundin joining the Habs? The Leafs are a non-playoff team, begining a long, slow re-build. Sundin is a veteran superstar at the end of his career. It’d be nice if he hung around to help keep the team halfway respectable, and help teach the young guys something about being a pro. But if he’s not going to sign in Toronto, it doesn’t matter where he signs. Michael Farber on the weekend was comparing this to Johnny Damon jumping from the Red Sox to the Yankees. One key difference, the Sox and Yanks were highly competitive at the time. There is no Leafs/Habs rivalry until the Leafs get better.
Extra bases: Good bye TJ, Hello J.O.?; Cool story about Nashville Predators first round picks Colin Wilson and Chet Pickard both getting cut from the same kids’ team when they were 14. Hey coach IN YOUR FACE!; Amazing and depressing story on the impact that suit technology is having on the sport of swimming. “By compressing his torso, the LZR not only lets him go faster, because it maintains a tubular shape, but also allows him to swim longer with less effort.” Read the whole thing and you’ll soon agree with me that if it’s not lycra/spandex, it should be illegal. Honestly, baseball says bats must be wooden. Why can’t swimming say suits must be Lycra/spandex?
By Charlie Gillis - Friday, June 20, 2008 at 4:28 PM - 0 Comments
Foghorn Dreghorn, TSN’s “Insider,” reports that the Habs are still interested in landing Sundin,…
Foghorn Dreghorn, TSN’s “Insider,” reports that the Habs are still interested in landing Sundin, and suggests the Leafs are shopping the rights to the big galoot in advance of tonight’s draft. So what price the privilege of negotiating with Shrek II over the week before the July 1 signing deadline?
Couple of thoughts: if Montreal is indeed talking to Sundin’s agent, it’s with a view to confirming A.) whether Sundin plans to play next year B.) that they can reach wink-wink nudge-nudge agreement with him before they give the Leafs anything good.
If the answers to the foregoing are yes—and that’s a big if—Bob Gainey would still be ill-advised to relinquish his 25th overall pick tonight. Or that handful of magic beans Cliff Fletcher wants. Sundin just doesn’t have that many miles left on him. The Leafs, meanwhile, would be crazy to let Sundin go to a team in their own division without getting something very valuable in return. Bad enough the Habs’ host broadcaster, RDS, nabbed the Hockey Night theme from the CBC, the Leafs de facto host broadcaster. Imagine their fans’ reaction to watching their former captain beat the crap out of them eight times next year…
So don’t bet your mule on this one.
In other pre-draft news … the Sens are dispensing with problem child Ray Emery, chucking him on waivers and preparing to buy him out. Moral of the story, kids, is get to practice on time, keep your stick on the ice, and always lease—never buy—your big white Hummer.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
The appropriate line for the video grab here might have been “Sundin Ponders Role…
The appropriate line for the video grab here might have been “Sundin Ponders Role as Shrek.”
The story, though, points to an eventuality I still can’t grasp—the big man seeking greener pastures come July 1. With MLSE unable to attract flies to the Leafs front office, I guess it’s conceivable that Mats would test the water. Talking about it after winning a leadership award for his efforts in T.O. suggests his exasperation has gotten the better of him.
But Montreal? Really?