REGINA, Saskatchewan (AP) — Derek Boogaard might have been “The Boogeyman” during his rough life as an NHL enforcer, but he was remembered Saturday as a gentle giant off the ice.
Rain fell as family, friends and hockey players filed into a chapel at the RCMP training academy to pay tribute to Boogaard, who was found dead on May 13 at his home in Minneapolis.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner announced on Friday that Boogaard’s death was an accident, due to a toxic mix of alcohol and the powerful pain killer oxycodone.
The 6-foot-7 Boogaard was one of the most feared fighters during his six-year NHL career with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers.
“Derek had a way of attracting people,” former Minnesota Wild general manager Doug Risebrough said. “He had a way of comforting people. A big man with a soft heart. On the ice, players were trying to get away from him. Off the ice, the people were trying to be around him.”
Boogaard’s longtime friend, Jeremy Clark, told mourners during the funeral that the 28-year-old player was many things to many people.
“For some of you, he was the protector. For others, he was the big goof with that infectious grin ready to victimize you with a prank or a trick word,” Clark said.
“Some saw the quiet giant, the thoughtful friend. Others saw the gracious guy that was ready to pick up the tab for complete strangers at a restaurant. I think for all of those we can agree — he was a giant with a giant heart who leaves behind a giant hole.”
Boogaard became the league’s premier enforcers during a lengthy stint with the Wild and a short one last season with the Rangers.
He was drafted by Minnesota in 2001 in the seventh round, No. 202 overall, and went on to play in 255 games with the Wild from 2005-10. He missed four games with the Wild because of a concussion.
Boogaard signed a four-year, $6.5 million deal with the Rangers last summer, but played in only 22 games because of a concussion that ended his season. He had one goal, one assist and 45 penalty minutes with New York.
His final game was Dec. 9 at Ottawa when he fought Matt Carkner and sustained a concussion and shoulder injury — it was the 70th fight of his NHL career.
Clark said Boogaard’s “love for life and fun overtook the size of his fists.”
“I’d never met someone who got more excitement and pleasure out of the simple things in life than Derek,” Clark said.
New York teammate Sean Avery and Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather were among those who turned out to honor Boogaard, along with Wild defenseman Brent Burns, retired winger Brendan Shanahan, and Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers.
Boogaard was born in Saskatoon and found his passion for hockey when he was 4.
Risebrough, now a Rangers scout, remembered Boogaard as a dedicated player who worked hard to improve himself.
“Boogey became a fan favorite, not only because of his physical play, his hits, his fights,” Risebrough said. “He was working hard. The fans could see the improvement, and everyone was cheering for him.
“They also knew about his charity work. They also felt the benefit of the work that he did for the Rangers, the Wild and later on his own charities with military families.”
Boogaard was noted for his community work and visits to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul.
Burns, who was Boogaard’s roommate with the Wild, said Boogaard meant a lot to every team he was on.
“I know I can speak for all the players that he’s touched in his career, some with more force than others,” Burns said. “He’s persevered through a lot, especially hockey, being told he wasn’t good enough his whole life. (He) worked hard every day and eventually become one of the most feared enforcers and best protectors of his teammates in the NHL.
“His compassion is second to none,” Burns added. “All the charity things, his work with the military — everyone loved Boogs. Everyone loved Boogs because of his protection and entertainment on the ice, and everyone wanted to see the Boogeyman off the ice.”