Derek Boogaard was one of the National Hockey League’s premier enforcers. He put fear into the opponents’ hearts when he was on the ice but off the ice, he was a gentle giant.
Last Friday, Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment. He was only 28 years old. The results of the autopsy won’t be known for a few weeks. Boogaard was born in Saskatoon and was selected in the seventh round by the Wild in the 2001 entry draft.
“Derek was an extremely kind and caring individual,” said New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather in a statement released last Friday. “He was a very thoughtful person, who will be dearly missed by all those who knew him.”
Boogaard was in his first season with the New York Rangers but had his season cut short due to a serious concussion. Prior to joining the Rangers, the 6-foot-7-inch, 265-pound Boogaard spent five seasons with the Minnesota Wild.
Over the past few seasons, I had followed Boogaard’s career with interest due to his enormous size for a hockey player and reputation as one of the game’s toughest players.
When he was in the lineup, he’d be charged with protecting his team’s top players from rough treatment by the other team’s more aggressive players. Boogaard was also very capable of delivering bone-crunching hits that would energize his own team. Playing as a fourth-line winger, Boogaard would often tangle with the other team’s enforcer.
Earlier in the season, he put an end to his nearly five-year goal drought. On Nov. 9, against the Washington Capitals, Boogaard raced down the left wing and blasted a slapshot past Michal Neuvirth.
But scoring goals was not Boogaard’s job. That was only icing on the cake. Hockey has its rules and then it has its code.
Even the hockey fight, chaotic and brutal as it is, has its code. Boogaard and other enforcers like him wouldn’t fight the “skill” players although they were fair game for body checks. You don’t hit a guy when he’s down. You don’t fight guys who don’t want to fight or are not known as fighters.
Boogaard’s last game was on Dec. 9, 2010 in Ottawa. In that game’s first period, Ottawa defenseman Matt Carkner chased him down for a fight. In that fight, Boogaard seemed to get stunned by a hard right from Carkner before being flipped to the ice. He went straight to the locker room after the fight having sustained a concussion and shoulder injury. Clips of the fight on Youtube had garnered over 150,000 views as of Monday.
In a respectful incident, a moment of silence was held prior to the start of Game 1 in both conference finals series for Boogaard’s untimely death.
Known for his charity work, Boogaard was a fan favourite. Known as “Boogey” or “Boogeyman,” Boogaard supported the “Defending the Blue Line Foundation,” a not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to ensure children of military families get the chance to participate in hockey.
Boogaard’s parents made the decision to donate his brain for research. It will be examined for signs of brain disease found when athletes repeatedly suffer blows to the head. Another former NHL enforcer Bob Probert, who died last year at the age of 45, was found to have suffered from a degenerative brain disease.
While the cause of Boogaard’s death is currently unknown, if it turns out to be somehow related to his concussions, then the NHL will have to come to grips that the devastating effects of concussions are not only something for later in life.
For now, the hockey world has lost somebody who gave a lot to those off the ice. Boogaard was respected for filling his role in today’s hockey and he did everything he could to share with those less fortunate who were not able to be professional athletes.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports