When Brock Boeser stands on the stage inside BB&T Center in South Florida on Friday night … when he slips on the hat and jersey of the NHL team that drafts him in the first round … it’ll be affirmation of what he has accomplished through more hardship than a teenager should have to endure.
“It’ll definitely be an emotional one,” said Boeser, an 18-year-old from Burnsville.
He’ll think of his father, Duke, who not only battles daily through Parkinson’s disease but nearly died in a car accident when Brock was a high school freshman. And he’ll think about the car crash involving a circle of four close friends that rocked his community last August — an accident that killed Ty Alyea, a baseball teammate, and critically injured and altered the life of Cole Borchardt, a hockey linemate.
And he’ll think about “G-pa,” his grandfather, Bob, who died hours before Brock played a game for Waterloo of the United States Hockey League in October.
“Brock grabbed me one night last fall in the parking lot outside of Waterloo and said, ‘Mom, it’s just been so hard,’ ” Laurie Boeser said. “I said, ‘Honey, unfortunately, we don’t have control of what life dictates. It can be not fun at times, and there’s going to be the good and the bad.’
“ ‘Life is precious,’ ” Laurie said she told her son, “ ‘and you’ve got to be thankful for everything you have and every day you live.’ ”
Brock Boeser has been given a harsh eye-opener on the world ever since his dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s five years ago. He played all year for his four pals — writing the names of Alyea, Borchardt, Matthew Berger and Tylan Procko on the knob of his sticks.
Yet, the former Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, who is preparing for his freshman season at North Dakota, tied for the USHL lead with 35 goals, finished third with 68 points and was a first-team All-Star.
After no Minnesota-born players were drafted in the first round the past two years, Boeser is one of three who could hear their names called Friday night. Crookston’s Paul Bittner and St. Paul’s Tom Novak, who grew up in River Falls, Wis., are the others.
“Thinking of everything Brock’s had to deal with, I’m stunned. It’s a lot,” said Duke, who coached Brock as a mite and used to play for Tom Osiecki at Burnsville High School. “I’m starting to get nervous, and I wasn’t nervous at all.
“I can’t wait to sit with him and see him get drafted. I’m living Brock’s dream.”
Playing for others
Last summer, Laurie Boeser answered a phone call in the middle of the night and heard the cries of her almost hysterical son. Brock was in Europe and just learned about the fatal accident south of the Twin Cities on the night of Aug. 6. Ty Alyea was dead and Cole Borchardt was barely hanging on; unbelted, the two were thrown from the back seat of an SUV when it rolled over on Hwy. 52 as four friends returned from a daylong cliff-diving trip.
Stuck 5,000 miles away in Slovakia, Brock was scared and feeling helpless. He was captaining the United States at the very start of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. His coaches gave him permission to return home, but Brock decided to stay and tied for the tournament goal-scoring lead with six to help lead the USA to a bronze medal.
“He put his game face on to play, but behind the scenes, there was a lot of counseling conversations to help him get through,” Laurie said. “It was so brave to go through this from a distance. This was his circle, a close-knit, little group, and it was just devastating news to hear and to grasp and to understand, especially when you’re away from home.”
Brock said he got through this time in part because of text conversations he had with Alyea’s mother, Lori. On the day of the wake, Brock, an honorary pallbearer from afar, called his mom to pass along a message to Lori Alyea: “I got the goal.”
“I had no idea what he was talking about, but when I got to the funeral home and told them, ‘Oh my gosh, these big smiles came across their faces,” Laurie Boeser said. “Brock promised to score a goal for Ty, and leave it to Brock. He did. It was pretty cool.”
The same thing happened last October when just before a game, Brock was informed of his grandfather’s death. He scored a goal, then looked straight to the sky.
“It was his last gift to grandpa,” Laurie said.
Cole Borchardt survived the car accident despite major brain damage. He spent nine months at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute and returned home in May. The recovery still will be a long struggle, but Brock says with a big smile, “It’s still Cole.”
“From where he was to where he is now, it’s a miracle and we’re so thankful,” Laurie added.
Alyea’s funeral was recorded for Brock to watch. He has yet to do so, but with time, it’s something he and Borchardt want to do together. Recently, Alyea was honored at a Burnsville baseball game.
“His family has had a lot of support,” Boeser said. “If they had to go through this and the support wasn’t there, it’d be that much harder. I think about Ty and Cole every day. It’s made me look at the opportunity I have and not take anything for granted.”
Pride of his father
Boeser says he was prepared to handle the car accident involving his friends because of what happened to his dad two years before. Brock was in St. Cloud playing in a hockey tournament. His mother, brother Paul, sister Jessica and some cousins were there to surprise him when Laurie got the call that just a half-mile from their home, somebody ran a red light and slammed into Duke’s car.
The seat belt snapped and Duke was thrown into the passenger side door. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, several broken bones and a lacerated spleen.
Parkinson’s already was affecting his cognitive thinking, memory and was creating confusion, so recovery was complicated. Duke is now fully functioning and is able to work part-time again, but the accident caused chronic pain.
“It was very scary,” Brock said. “I play for my father.”
Boeser never let the stress affect his impressive development during his four years of high school, and he especially credits his 34-year-old cousin, Dan Boeser, a former Wisconsin player who overcame non-Hodgkin lymphoma during his collegiate days. Brock talks to Dan almost daily for guidance and friendship.
The way right winger Brock Boeser shoots reminds some of Brett Hull, and Boeser himself fashions his game after Kyle Okposo. He was interviewed by 28 teams at the recent NHL combine and feels he had great interviews with Calgary, Winnipeg, and yes, the Wild, which picks 20th. He has been invited to the United States’ world junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August.
“Brock’s just one of those kids we’ve learned that is very sensitive and caring, but he’s also very focused and can persevere through anything,” Laurie said. “He’s had some stuff to deal with. Very good stuff and some hard stuff for a young guy.”
Duke couldn’t be prouder.
“He’s always been the best player on his teams. I’m not bragging. But he was,” Duke said. “It’s starting to set in. I’m just so proud of the kid. He doesn’t complain about anything.
“I mean, he graduated with a 3.6 GPA. Not bad for a jock; we barely got over a C average.”