Remembering Derek Boogaard (1983-2011)

On Friday May 13, 2011, Derek Boogaard was found dead by younger brothers Ryan and Curtis at his Minneapolis apartment. He was only 28. On this special page here, we pay tribute to a special person who was well loved by his family, friends and the hockey community.

Derek Boogaard was a popular enforcer who battled all comers over a six-year NHL career with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers. After spending his first five seasons in St. Paul, Boogaard signed with the Rangers last summer, reaching agreement on a four-year contract worth $6.25 million ($1.625 M per year).

In his first season on Broadway, Boogaard participated in 22 games for the Blueshirts, registering a goal and an assist while racking up 45 penalty minutes and delivering 27 bone crushing hits. Highlights included seven fights along with an awesome goal he scored in a home game against Washington on Versus that certainly was replayed plenty on YouTube and in the Social Network. The goal snapped a 234-game drought dating back to his rookie season with the Wild in which he scored his other two goals along with four helpers with career bests in penalty minutes (158) and games played (65).

Unfortunately, his year was cut short on December 9, 2010 versus Ottawa when he sustained a concussion and shoulder injury against combatant Terry Carkner, forcing him to miss the remainder of the regular season (51 games). Without frequent updates on his status, it left questions as to how severe his health was. Even before NY Post writer Larry Brooks' assertion that Boogaard was getting help from the NHL/PA Behavioral Health/Substance Abuse Program for an unspecified reason, rumors were afloat that he was struggling. When it becomes a bit too quiet around an injured player, you always are concerned. Still, nobody had any idea what the extent was of what the popular teammate/enforcer was dealing with.

While I was against the signing due to the terms Team President and GM Glen Sather rewarded him with, I also was a big fan of a popular player appropriately nicknamed "The Boogeyman." An imposing figure on the ice going 6-7, 265 pounds, the former Wild '01 seventh round pick (202nd overall) always stood up for fallen teammates, including Marian Gaborik, who he formed a close bond with in their time spent in Minnesota. When he made it official last July 1, Gaborik was extremely pleased to be reunited with his close friend and teammate.

By all accounts since his tragic death, Boogaard larger than life off the ice- helping as many less fortunate as he could, including his popular Boogard's Booguardians that hosted military families at all Ranger home games. The kind hearted soul also was a regular at Garden Of Dreams Foundation events, always with a smile around kids despite a trying first year in New York. Through it all, he never complained, living up to the lofty status former Minnesota coaches, teammates and fans held him in. No wonder his Wild jersey #24 was such a hot sell with plenty of supporters donning it in his return last year, cheering the former tough guy while booing Gaborik.

It makes all the sense in the world considering how universally loved most club enforcers are. Off the ice, the same guys who lay it all on the line, defending and honoring fallen comrades, are some of the nicest people you'll meet. When the terrible news came across Twitter, the amount of love poured out for Boogey was incredible with stunned teammates Brandon Prust and Michael Del Zotto tweeting how great a person he was and how much they'll miss him. One of Boogaard's closest adversaries, Georges Laraque paid tribute by posting a marathon of tweets devoted to one of the most intimidating big men the sport's ever seen. He also dedicated a marathon he ran to Boogaard. An amazing gesture for the former pugilist who was loved in Edmonton.

Even now, it's still hard to believe that a big, strong young man is no longer with us. Boogaard's funeral service is this Saturday. His biggest fans held a memorial at the Xcel Energy Center over the weekend that drew several former teammates including Niklas Backstrom, Brent Burns, Andrew Brunette, Nick Schultz, Stephane Veilleux, Wes Walz and the whole Wild staff, who paid tribute the only way they knew how. Organizer Katie Haag and Shelby Leske helped the Boogaard family and friends grieve. Mom Joanne Boogaard and Dad Len Boogaard were joined by Boogey's two brothers Ryan and Aaron, sister Krysten who just graduated college and half-brother Curtis. A beautiful bouquet of flowers were presented to Mrs. Boogaard from Katie as part of an emotional day in Minnesota.

Boogaard's family donated his brain to the Boston University Medical Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. This was also done for former Red Wing Bob Probert, who played a similar ferocious style and passed away at the age of 45 last year. In that case, they discovered CTE. At the time of Derek's death, there were no signs of trauma with homicide ruled out. In fact, his spirits were up according to agent Ron Salcer, who spent a few days with Boogaard in LA before his client headed home, awaiting the arrival of brothers Ryan and Curtis.

It's incredible to think even now. Why? That's just the thing. Sometimes, we never understand why these things happen to such good people. He was only a month shy of his 29th birthday, eerily reminding me of my friend's death last year around the same time. It'll be a year this Saturday. He was just 20. Death isn't only depressing but can be stressful when it's someone you know. I didn't know Boogaard personally but he was an ultimate warrior. Just the reaction of ex-mates, coaches, fans and beat writers who covered him, tell you what kind of great person he was. I'm not afraid to admit the other night at my brother's computer, I teared up. It still gets me.

For his career, Boogaard played 277 NHL games, registering three goals, 13 assists and 16 points with 589 PIM. That also included six postseason contests in '05-06 for the Wild in which he had 24 PIM. They may not have won the series but at least he got the chance to take part in the best aspect of the hockey season. For a guy who was never smooth on the ice, The Boogeyman did alright for himself, living out a childhood dream. It's a shame he's taken from us so soon. Let us remember him as someone who gave his heart and soul who loved his teammates and was even a bigger man off the ice.

We'll miss you Boogey!

RIP DEREK BOOGAARD (6/23/83 - 5/13/11)

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