Over 5 months after his tragic passing, the Rangers returned home to re-open the 33% transformed Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. Not only was it notable for the first phase renovation that was completed, but this would also be the first game the Blueshirts played on their home ice since the passing of their 2010-2011 teammate, enforcer Derek Boogaard.
Many fans, myself included, were ready for the home opening ceremonies to be one of celebration as well as introspection remembering those lives of the fallen NHL players that passed away in one of the most tragic off-seasons in the league’s history. Boogaard, Wade Belak, Rick Rypien and all of those who died in the plane crash tragedy in Russia gave hockey fans and their fellow players a serious reality check and a forced them to take a second to take a step back realize the fragility of life.
Though not the scope of the devastation that came from the plane crash that killed 43 people including several with ties to the Rangers, or the kind of unforeseeable medical tragedy that took the life of Alexi Cherepanov, Boogaard’s death was no less heartbreaking.
Boogaard was a man who may well have been the toughest enforcer in the NHL, but ironically it was the fight with pain for nearly a year due to the nature of his job that may well have led to his demise. After a December fight against Ottawa’s Matt Carkner, Boogaard’s head hit the ice after taking a few clean right hands to the jaw and he would never skate in another NHL game again. While Boogaard’s job is seen by many in the business as an important one, debate rages on about how dangerous and even if fighting is even necessary. There have been discussions on potentially taking it out of the game.
The game of hockey was built with fighting in it. Even though it was a stressful and sometimes painful job, it was Boogaard’s and by all accounts he loved being the one who could go out on the ice and calm a game down via his presence alone. If you can, recall the Rangers/Calgary game last season. Things were getting heated and the level of physicality was rising…until Boogaard stepped on to the ice; gave that little smile to the Flames players signifying that he was there and not to forget about him and just like that, the game took a cleaner turn.
“I’m right here, I’m ready.” Were the words that Boogaard mouthed on the ice. Calgary’s enforcer, Tim Jackman, stood next to him in the faceoff circle and looked less willing to drop the gloves than ever before in his career. He refused to even dare to take a look at Boogaard who was intently staring at him. That was what Boogaard brought with him, an intimidating presence that many of the most feared enforcers in the game would back down from.
In the video (see above) Sam Rosen mentions just how involved in the community Derek Boogaard was. He was beloved in Minnesota and “Boogy” as he was known, repaid it tenfold. Even in his short stay in New York, the fans were growing acclimated to Boogaard but that didn’t let it stop him from continuing his role in “Defending The Blueline.” DFB is a nonprofit organization geared toward helping the families, mostly the children, of military personnel to enjoy the game of hockey. This was an organization that Boogaard was very active in and cared a great deal about. The Rangers were a good fit for the former Minnesota Wild as they their own charities and are very involved with all of them. I can already think back to an episode of Rangers Game-Night where Boogaard was at a Build-a-Bear location giving of his time with the Rangers’ Garden of Dreams foundation.
Sadly, Boogaard only played for half a year for the team in the red, white and blue and wasn’t able to win the crowd over as he had with the Wild. According to an ESPN article that came out just days after his passing was announced, the story recounted how Boogaard’s friends said that he never felt quite at home in NY. Boogaard didn’t feel at home walking the streets of Manhattan with no one recognizing him, something he’d never be able to do in Minneapolis.
“The New York Rangers signed his checks, but the Canadian’s heart was always in the Twin Cities. In Manhattan, he could walk around for six hours and nobody recognized him. He hated that, the isolation he felt after he had signed with the Rangers this past summer. People close to Boogaard say he was bored and lonely in New York. When he suffered a season-ending concussion in December, things got even worse. He didn’t leave his apartment for three weeks, shunning the light, and had containers of takeout food piling up on the counters.”
(Click to read this “must-read” article)
Make no mistake about it, the death of Derek Boogaard was an absolute tragedy. In my opinion he deserved a dedicated moment of silence prior to the anthems being sung at MSG Thursday night. Rick Rypien never played a game for the Winnipeg Jets yet he received a video tribute and a very long and heartfelt moment of silence before the Jet’s home opener. Yes, Derek Boogaard only played in 22 games for the Rangers before his season, and his life, were cut way too short, but that in no way should minimize his receiving the sort of respect that he gave to those who love and follow hockey. It was a mistake for the Rangers organization to not give a man who put so much out there for others not to be given the chance, even in his death, to receive that back from the fans.
Well, I’m one fan who says, “I’m saddened by your loss.” I know the players are wearing your number #94 on their helmets with pride every game.
RIP Derek Boogaard.