Hartnett: Derek Boogaard Remembered, One Year Later
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By Sean Hartnett
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A year ago to this day, the Boogaard family and the entire hockey community suffered a terrible loss. At 28, Derek Boogaard died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose on May 13th, 2011.
Last night, the New York Rangers celebrated the triumph of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals but a year ago, both the Rangers and players around the entire league were stunned by the sobering news of Boogaard’s passing.
Marian Gaborik spoke the New York Rangers’ official website a day after learning of Boogaard’s death. Gaborik and Boogaard were previously teammates while members of the Minnesota Wild and enjoyed a close relationship even before Boogaard’s lone season in New York.
“I found out immediately, like right away… it was late at night here. I couldn’t believe it,” Gaborik said. “It was weird because I just couldn’t believe it. It’s really sad, a young guy like that.”
He continued, “It was devastating news. I played with Boogey for a long time in Minny and then in New York. He was a great guy. We got along together great. We helped each other out on the ice and off the ice. We were very close. I tried to help him along in New York, and we had a very good relationship. It’s just very sad.”
This season, the Rangers are wearing #94 stickers on the back of their helmets to honor Boogaard’s memory. He was affectionately known as ‘The Boogeyman’ for his fighting prowess and ‘The Mountie’ because of his Saskatchewan roots and being the son of a Royal Canadian Mountie.
As a youth, Boogaard was much larger than his opposition and often drew penalties as a result of his size. Parents of opposing players would complain about his size, a trend that would continue throughout his path to the NHL.
He was always the protector of smaller teammates in youth leagues, in the WHL, ECHL, AHL and finally the NHL.
Brian Boyle described Boogaard as an unselfish man both on and off the ice in an interview with the Rangers’ website. “He was a great person. He really was. He was such a caring guy, an unselfish guy,” Boyle reflected.
Boyle continued, “He put himself in front of bullets for the guys. I had some great talks and great laughs with him in our car rides into the city. I will remember him fondly, and I think we all will. There are so many great things Boogey brought to our team and to our lives. For however long you knew him, it was a blessing because on the ice he was an amazing teammate, and off the ice he was an even better friend.”
Boogaard entered the National Hockey League at a mountainous 6’7″, 260+ pound frame. Now, it was NHL coaches and opposing players who had to deal with the force known as ‘The Boogeyman.’
Regarded as one of the most intimidating fighters during his career, Boogaard amassed 589 penalty minutes over 277 total games over the course of six NHL seasons.
He famously knocked out Todd ‘The Fridge’ Fedoruk of the Anaheim Ducks during the 2006-07 season. The result of the fight forced Fedoruk to undergo facial reconstruction on his cheek using titanium plates.
Now retired, Fedoruk paid tribute to Boogaard through Twitter this afternoon: “Miss you Boogs! Remembering u on the anniversary of ur tragic passing. Great man, true friend, legendary NHL fighter!!”
Following his death, the Boogaard family donated his brain Sports Legacy Institute at The Boston University Medical School. Months later, it was determined that Booagard suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). His condition was advanced to such a state that had he lived on, Boogaard would have suffered from middle-age dementia.
Boogaard’s role during his career was to be the protector of teammates. The hope is that his tragic death will protect future hockey players as medical science and the hockey world continues to discover more about the nature of concussions and brain injuries.
Taken far before his time, Boogaard’s legacy might very well be protecting future hockey generations from the devastating brain injuries.
How will you remember Boogaard’s career and hockey legacy? Share your memories below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.