• Biron Can't Wait to Get Started
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
The last two Rangers teams that went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final could both point to one of the NHL's most feared enforcers on their roster.
In 1979, there was Nick Fotiu -- a former amateur boxing champion whose tenacity and ability to intimidate division rivals such as the Islanders and Flyers remain the stuff of Garden legend more than 30 years later. Fotiu saw his physical role as a responsibility to protect teammates, but when he did throw his weight around, he turned heads throughout the league.
In 1994, there was Joe Kocur, already one of hockey's toughest tough guys long before he arrived in New York at age 26 and a valued member of the championship team. Kocur sparked so much fear in opponents that his total penalty minutes dropped as a Ranger because by then most other NHL enforcers weren’t so eager to take him on.
|Called the NHL's "best at what he does" by Marian Gaborik, new Rangers forward Derek Boogaard is that rare breed of an intimidating force whot can make the difference between winning and losing. |
Like Fotiu and Kocur before him, new Rangers forward Derek Boogaard is a player in the prime of his career, and his reputation is both well-deserved and well-established. In 2007, The Hockey News
conducted a poll of 30 NHL enforcers, asking them to rank the most intimidating fighter in the league. Boogaard finished second in the poll at age 25 with only two NHL seasons under his belt. The top finisher at that time, Georges Laraque, was nearly six years older than Boogard and had been in the league for nine years.
Given Boogaard's heavyweight status three years later, it's safe to suspect he would finish atop that poll right now.
At 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, Boogaard is a massive physical specimen, far bigger than any of the great enforcers who came before him. His intimidation stems not just from the way he throws fists, but from the way he crunches opponents in the offensive zone.
"People, especially defensemen, won't want to play against him," said Rangers leading scorer Marian Gaborik
, a longtime teammate and friend of Boogaard's during their years with the Minnesota Wild. "When he gets going and he hits somebody, it's scary."
At least one defenseman who will now be on Boogaard's side of the ice agrees with Gaborik's assessment. Asked about what his new teammate brings to the Rangers, Dan Girardi
didn't need to go into much detail.
"Boogaard speaks for himself," said Girardi, who faced Boogaard for the first time last season at Minnesota. "He will be a great force."
While the NHL has changed over the decades, effective intimidation remains a very tangible part of the game, and it can be the difference between winning and losing. Some of the loudest cheers ever heard at The Garden have been for the work of players who give their team both a physical and psychological advantage every time they step on the ice.
"There is a physical presence that I bring to the game and to the guys," said Boogaard. "It helps them play to the best of their abilities, and that's what showcases a team at its best -- when every player doesn't have to be worried about using their skill set because of another team."
Gaborik calls Boogaard "the best in the league at what he does", but Boogaard says his natural intimidation factor that opens up so much ice for his teammates, is actually a by-product of his overall approach to the game.
"The thing is is that when I go out for a game, I'm not thinking I want to intimidate any one person," Boogaard said. "It's just me going to do my job night in and night out -- just by skating as hard as I can and by doing the right things on the ice. When that happens, good things will follow that as well. Maybe the intimidating thing is that I can skate and keep up with the play and hit guys, whereas a lot of other guys my size can't do that."
Girardi knows what Boogaard means from personal experience.
"You can hear him coming when you're in the corners," Girardi recalled. "When he's out there it's going to be big for us to have him putting a little fear in the other teams' D. If he catches you in his tracks you're definitely going to feel it for a couple of days. A guy going that fast and hitting you with that much weight is something you're definitely going to feel."
This rare combination of size, strength and skating ability are a reflection of Boogaard's natural athleticism. Growing up in Regina, Saskatchewan, he was always playing sports with his four siblings, and he's not the only one who has enjoyed great success. Boogaard has a younger brother, Aaron, who was also drafted by the Wild and spent the past three years in Pittsburgh's organization. His sister, Krysten, is a 6-foot-5 center for the University of Kansas women's basketball team.
|Derek Boogaard has spent the off-season preparing for his first Rangers training camp and is determined to earn as much playing time as he can in 2010-11. |
Weighing 250 pounds as a 17-year-old, Boogaard spent the bulk of his junior career with the Western Hockey League's Prince George Cougars and Medicine Hat Tigers before working his way up to the Wild in 2005-06. He topped 200 penalty minutes in each of his three minor-league seasons in the ECHL and AHL, and by the time he reached the NHL, the established league enforcers were already on notice.
Gaborik was one of Boogaard's first teammates in Minnesota, and the two became fast friends despite their very different on-ice styles. One of the biggest factors in Boogaard's decision to sign with the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent was an opportunity to reunite with Gaborik, who was born only four months before Boogaard.
"Obviously, it was important that Gaby was there and I had played with him years before," said Boogaard. "Seeing what kind of teammate he is and how hard he works at what he does definitely entices a player to want to play again with a that kind of teammate and good friend as well."
During a busy summer that included a trip to L.A., Boogaard has spent most of his time in Minnesota working himself into shape for his first Rangers training camp under head coach John Tortorella. He said he has heard how physically challenging the camp can be and is determined to make a good first impression.
"My brother and I have been training hard all summer with each other," Boogaard said. "When you show up in the best shape possible, it gives you the best chance to play. That's what I want to be able to do. I want to be able to play night in and night out, and hopefully I get the trust of the coach so he can put me in there every night."
Boogaard has also been in contact with Gaborik this summer and has already managed to find an apartment in Manhattan. He says he is really "looking forward to getting into the city, getting to know the guys, and start playing."
Although he has been in the NHL for five full seasons, Boogaard has only played at Madison Square Garden once -- as a rookie on Dec. 5, 2005. However, he is very aware of the traditions that surround the Rangers and knows what The Garden Faithful can mean to the team. On a personal level, he senses that a New York crowd can help energize him and provide a big lift when he is playing his physical game.
Tortorella has said that in 2010-11 he wants Madison Square Garden to be a particularly unpleasant and intimidating place for opponents. Between Boogaard and the fans, that shouldn't be too difficult.
"When the fans are behind you, you definitely feel it, and you can tell. That definitely becomes a factor in the game," said Boogaard. "The one thing I can promise them is that I'm going to work hard every night, and that's going to be my focus."