Friday, 13 May 2011

Loss Of A Great Boogey-Man

The photo to the left was taken by me when I attended the Wild-Blue Jackets game two seasons ago. That was as close as I've gotten to Derek Boogaard while he was on skates, and I'm not sure I'd want to be wearing a different-coloured jersey if I were on skates in front of the man. Boogaard thrashed Jared Boll in that fight, and the crowd in Minnesota loved him for it. In short, the Boogeyman, as he was affectionately known, was a respected individual on and off the ice by fans and players. So when it was announced today that Derek Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment, my heart immediately sank.

I didn't know Derek Boogaard as a human being. I only knew him as the player we saw on the ice: a 6'8" tower of a human being that was as tough as nails as any player has been. Sure, he had a knack for not finding the net, but he was the NHL's unofficial top-ranking policeman. Players on the Minnesota Wild could go about their business fairly unobstructed because the Boogeyman always was lurking if someone gave the Wild a difficult time.

Derek Boogaard, off the ice, was a completely different man: caring, kind, thoughtful, funny, and a teammate through and through. He gave more than he received, and his greatest joy seemed to be the interaction with fans. He was a staunch supporter of military personnel and their families, and he gave as much time as he could to the various charities that his teams supported.

Boogaard took an active role in community endeavors with the two teams he played for in his career, particularly with regard to the military. He supported the Defending the Blue Line Foundation, a non-profit charitable foundation that aims to help children of military members play hockey.

He created "Boogaard's Booguardians" with the Rangers, hosting military members and their families at Madison Square Garden for all Rangers home games. He also worked with the Garden of Dreams Foundation.
I am quite saddened by the loss of Derek Boogaard as he was an entertaining player, and loved to toy with the media with his quotes. He and Michael Russo of the StarTribune in Minneapolis shared a special bond.
"The back and forths with Backstrom were gold, and my favorite Boogaard story is when Brent Burns was all over Boogaard for snoring. I wrote about it, and the next week, Boogaard ran up to me all excitedly. Local-based company Breathe Right sent him a box of nasal strips! Another great one was that Boogaard/Bouchard commercial they shot a few years back where Boogaard wakes up and tells Bouchard to quiet down so he doesn't wake up the sleeping fans in their hotel room."
Russo continues,
"Boogaard was one of a kind. He may have been a 6-8 giant, but he was as gentle as they got. Quiet, funny and a whole lot smarter than people gave him credit for when it came to league happenings, drafting and anything to do with the sport of hockey.

"Like most enforcers, he wasn't some street thug. He was a good guy who realized what he had to do to play professionally in the NHL. And he loved that the fans took to him. He loved the prestige that came with being the BoogeyMan. It's why he pronounced his name Booooogaard when his last name is really pronounced B-OH-GUARD.

"He loved kids, he loved doing charity work, from Defending the Blue Line, to the Police Athletic League, to Second Harvest."
The NHL, the NHLPA, and the world of hockey has lost a man that really went out of his way to make everyone feel better about themselves. More importantly, though, Len and Joanne Boogaard lost a son while Krysten, Ryan, and Aaron Boogaard lost a brother. Those are the people that deserve my sympathy, and my heart goes out to them. The 28 year-old Derek was a great man to us hockey fans, but he was way more to them. Their loss stings me, and I can't imagine what they are going through during this difficult time.

Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom told the StarTribune, "Unreal guy. Great friend and an awesome teammate. Outside the rink, he didn't want bad for anyone. If you don't know him, if you just know him by what he does on the ice, you don't know how great he is. Smiling every day. At the rink, I don't think he was mad at anyone ever."

New York Rangers GM Glen Sather, who signed Boogaard away from Minnesota last season, said in a release, "Derek was an extremely kind and caring individual. He was a very thoughtful person, who will be dearly missed by all those who knew him. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and teammates during this difficult time."

The Minnesota Wild released the following statement: "The Minnesota Wild organization sends our deepest sympathies to the family of Derek Boogaard. Derek was a fan favourite during his five seasons with the Wild and will be greatly missed here in Minnesota and throughout the NHL. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Boogaard family during this tragic time of loss."

NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr released a statement, saying, "The NHLPA is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Derek Boogaard. Derek was a well-liked and respected member of the NHLPA, and his passing is a great loss to the entire hockey community. Our sincere condolences to Derek's many friends and family during this difficult time."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in a statement, said, "The news that we have lost someone so young and so strong leaves everyone in the National Hockey League stunned and saddened. The NHL family sends its deepest condolences to all who knew and loved Derek Boogaard, to those who played and worked with him and to everyone who enjoyed watching him compete."

Coyotes tough guy Paul Bissonnette (@BizNasty2point0) tweeted, "Had to call my folks after hearing that awful news. Derek Boogard you were pure nails on the ice, and an even better person off. R.I.P".

It seems that more people loved Derek Boogaard for what he did off the ice than what he did on it. That, readers, is the legacy that we all should be striving for: how many people did you help unconditionally and unselfishly in your life? For Derek Boogaard, the answer might be "not enough", but he did more in his 28 years than what some people do in an entire lifetime. That's something that he and his family should be rpoud of and should celebrate.

For Derek Boogaard, his 28 years were far too short for what he was accomplishing off the ice. If you ask me, the world could user a few more Boogeymen like Derek Boogaard. Rest in peace, Mr. Boogaard. You will always be an all-star in this writer's eyes, and heaven is lucky to have someone as special as you in its ranks.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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