On the ice, Derek Boogaard was as tough as they come. In my opinion, he was the toughest tough guy in the NHL, routinely turning guys like Jody Shelley, Colton Orr, Eric Godard and Todd Fedoruk into his play things throughout his six-year career with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers.
But beneath the hard exterior that made his professional hockey dreams a reality, Boogaard was one of the nicest guys in the game. That's something that's true of just about all enforcers in the NHL, but Boogaard really was the embodiment of it.
He dedicated a huge part of his time to Defending the Blue Line, a charity that helps the children from military families stay involved with the game while their parents are fighting overseas. He was named one of DTBL's "All-Star MVPs," and one word out of the mouth of somebody who knew him could get the point across that he was special.
Here's what Michael Russo, a reporter for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and a friend of Boogaard's had to say about his tragic passing.
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.
Derek and I texted a lot about all sorts of things. I've talked to him a lot lately, a lot this past week via text. In fact, I nearly texted him this afternoon when I was walking down by his new apartment in the Warehouse District. But I knew he had just gotten back from LA with Aaron and I knew Ryan was coming in this afternoon.
He was so looking forward to the "3 Boogaards" hanging.
Derek texted me Thursday asking me what followers and following meant on Twitter. I told him, asked why he wanted to know, and he told me he met with a PR firm while in LA and planned to join Twitter. I told him to let me know when he launches, and I'd pump it up. He wrote back, "Perfect!"
That will be the last I'll ever hear from Derek, and that's killing me right now.
For anybody unfamiliar with hockey, it might seem like a strange dichotomy, that the toughest players in the league are also generally the nicest. When you really think about it, though, it makes a whole lot of sense
Look at a guy like Boogaard. He never really excelled in the putting-the-puck-in-the-net part of the game, but he still found a way to turn hockey into a career. He did it with his fists, but that was just a means to an end. He wasn't a pampered superstar who took the game for granted.
He genuinely loved the sport of hockey, and even as somebody who watched him from afar throughout his NHL career, that was the one thing that shined through for me. Just look at the reaction to what turned out to be his last NHL goal, which he scored back in November against the Washington Capitals.
Disbelief, really. The still photo as he approaches the bench is really what does it for me, though. Just that look on his face. You can tell he's loving every second of it.
That's the truth about most enforcers in the NHL. They don't necessarily want to be the tough guy all the time, but they do it just so they have the chance to play the game they love. And they really do love it, taking every day as a professional athlete with the respect and humility such a job deserves. There's no ego or sense of entitlement. In fact, it's just the opposite.
That's what makes the tragic passing of Derek Boogaard even more heartbreaking. We lost a very good person on Friday.