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Bye Bye, Boogeyman

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The best enforcer in the NHL was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment Friday. 

My favorite baddie, Derek Boogaard died on Friday. He was only 28.

Boogie had played most of his hockey career with our Minnesota Wild, and I was fortunate enough to get to see him play many times. You always knew when he was on the ice. The crowd cheered a little louder and there was always a low rumbling hum as the fans chanted “Boooooooogaaaaaarrrd.”

In 2009, he was sent off to New York to play with the Rangers as a free agent when former Wild (and current Ranger) right wing Marian Gaborik called to say he needed protection. Figuring we still had Cal Cluterbuck to kick some ass, the Wild sent Boogaard up the river.

Being The Enforcer, he obviously got into a number of fights in his career, and last December, he suffered another concussion during a fight with Ottawa Senators’ defenseman Matt Carkner. Boogaard had recovered enough to return to playing and it isn’t clear yet if his concussions had anything to do with his untimely passing.

Rangers President Glen Sather issued a statement saying how kind and caring Derek was. He went on to say that Derek was very thoughtful and will be dearly missed by all who knew him.

Photo by Jenna James

An impromptu memorial was set up outside the Xcel Energy Center Gate Two and the Minnesota Wild invited fans to a public memorial for Derek inside Gate One on Sunday. Over 300 people gathered with team members, managers, coaches and the Boogaard family to remember the best enforcer in the National Hockey League.

Photo By Jenna James

Walking in to the X was very familiar and yet quite foreign at the same time. The jerseys were neatly hung on the wall, it smelled like beer and there were hundreds of fans decked out in Wild gear all standing near the gate. The odd thing about it was you could hear a pin drop. The electricity was gone and the air was very heavy. The looks on fans’ faces were all the same: Sadness, disbelief, shock, grief.

Photo by Jenna James

To see tough guys like Wes Walz, Brent Burns and Andrew Brunette openly emotional, you can’t help but get a little teary eyed yourself.

Photo by Jenna James

Wes spoke for quite a while, saying that even though Boogaard was an intimidating figure on the ice (Boogaard is 6′ 7″ 265), off the ice, Boogie was a softie who loved working with kids. He recalled a story about after a big win, he couldn’t find his kids. He was running around looking everywhere and just as panic was about to set in, he found his three children playing hockey with Derek, who was crawling around on his hands and knees to give the children the advantage. Walz also mentioned that Derek didn’t like fighting, but understood that that was what put food on his table.

The family read (and could barely get through) a statement thanking the fans and the NHL for their support. They painted Derek as a real person who played for the love of the game and as someone who loved his family and loved working with kids. He would stay until the last autograph was signed and nothing was ever too important that he couldn’t shake a hand or pose for a picture. Derek was a hard worker who took special classes to become a better skater and a better all around player and someone whose charitable contributions and working with kids made him a favorite in the fans hearts, he was also a brother, a son and a friend.

After the tribute, we decided to go across the street to one of my favorite pre-game hang outs to raise a glass to Derek. There were a few Wild players that had gathered there as well and while I didn’t quite know what to say, I did feel fortunate enough to be able to toast with these guys and remember with them the nicest guy to ever punch you in the face.

Rest in peace, Derek. You will NOT be forgotten.

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