The hockey offseason of 2011 was a difficult one. While I hate to remind anyone of it, that was the summer that we lost (in chronological order) Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and our own Wade Belak.
Each of them suffered from some form(s) of depression, and scouts would evaluate them as in ascending order (according to penalty minutes/per game) Rypien (1.9), Boogaard (2.13) and Belak (2.3) as a policeman or protector. Rather than judging each of these cases as being the same, we are able to delve into one of them.
The New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner, John Branch, released a book this fall detailing the life story of Derek Boogaard: “Boy on Ice – The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard.”
As you might imagine, it can be a difficult read. Derek overcame a lot to make it into the junior hockey ranks in the Western Hockey League, let alone the NHL. It is unbelievable to me that he had the drive (or perhaps, the stubborn streak) to make it to the Minnesota Wild in 2005.
Somehow, Boogaard hooked on with Regina of the WHL in 1999 and then moved on to Prince George and Medicine Hat for portions of four seasons before catching on with the Louisiana IceGators of the ECHL at mid-season 2002-03. This after Minnesota used a 7th round pick on him in the 2001 Entry Draft. That got him to the AHL’s Houston Aeros, where future Detroit assistant (and now San Jose Sharks head coach) Todd McLellan was in charge.
He created room for his teammates, with over 200 minutes in penalties both seasons in Houston (207 and 259). Finally he began his 277-game NHL career with the Wild in the fall of 2005 and never played another minor league game.
The hazards inherent to the job of a team policeman did not allow him to ever play more than 65 games in a season. As big (6-feet-7, 258 pounds) and fearsome as he was, the damage he inflicted on some was counterbalanced by the too-numerous-to-mention injuries he suffered. Therein was much of what would turn out to be his demise.
The medications he felt he needed to combat, or defeat, the pain were at the bottom of it all. He would build up a tolerance for them, and with his size, figured he needed an even greater dosage than “normal” people. He would get desperate and obtain many prescriptions from legal and extra-legal sources.
All of this made him feel very much alone in his world, a fate he dreaded. He was dead before his 29th birthday.
Sad as this all is, this book deserves reading. We shouldn’t be too quick to say that the role of the enforcer has been diminished over the course of recent seasons. John Branch, with the help and cooperation of the Boogaard family, has taken us inside Derek’s life. I certainly wish we could erase those difficult memories of 2011, but I feel there are lessons for us in this book, making it a worthwhile read.
Earlier, Paul McCann and I were lucky enough to talk to the author on Slapshot Radio, if you would like to hear from him:
Click here to listen to the Slapshot Radio episode featuring an interview with author John Branch