Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Two compassionate Wild fans, and the power of Facebook, create a special night for the Boogaards

Posted by: Michael Russo under Bears, Wild off-season news Updated: May 16, 2011 - 8:59 AM

The Boogaard family has sat inside Xcel Energy Center many times. They've watched a gazillion games.

It's safe they knew just how many in Minnesota adored their son, Derek Boogaard. But in case just a little part of them had forgotten, more than 300 Wild fans so incredibly came down to the X tonight to show the Boogaards how much they were also wounded by this horrible loss. I left to go write after the formal part of the memorial was over, but I heard from many that there was a steady stream of fans still arriving well past 8 p.m. to pay their respects.

Derek Boogaard wasn't the best skater, he wasn't the best stick-handler (I can hear Boogaard now say, "Uhhh, Roose, I ... can't stick-handle"), he wasn't the best shooter.

But everybody loved Boogey. He was the underdog, the guy who had to work excruciatingly hard just to make it to the NHL, the guy who you could see playing in your beer league, the guy who excited every paying customer every single time with a good scrap.

As Wes Walz eloquently said tonight, "We needed Derek in the lineup to protect and take care of us. I can tell you a lot of guys on our bench grew an inch or two and were a lot braver when Derek was in the lineup."

Fans root for that. But there was obviously more. There was just something about Boogey -- that personality, that humor, that obvious humanity.

Fans picked up on that right away.

Chuck Fletcher and Walz talked a lot about that side of Boogaard at tonight's incredible memorial that was completely, utterly, 100 percent the creation of two young Wild fans I'll get more into in a moment.

Fletcher talked about how every single time he saw Boogaard walk by a line of kids, he'd stop to sign autographs, take pictures, chat. "Nothing was more important," Fletcher said.

Walz talked about how often Boogaard, without anybody knowing like TV cameras and reporters, would visit the Children's Hospital.

At that moment, a memory popped in my head.

In April 2009, about a week after GM Doug Risebrough was fired, Risebrough held his press availability at Tom Reid's. The presser ended, I walked outside to call my editor and discuss what was said and find out what my space was (how much I could write).

A black SUV pulls up to me, I look up and Boogaard's in the passenger seat. Sticking out the window is his entire right arm in what had to be the most uncomfortable contraption I've ever seen.

Boogaard had literally just gotten out of the operating room from offseason shoulder surgery. He didn't go home. He asked to be driven to Tom Reid's.

Boogaard asked me if I could do him a favor, go back inside and get Risebrough for him. Risebrough came out, I stepped away and you could just see how touched Risebrough was.

You see, Boogaard knew wholeheartedly that he owed his NHL career to Risebrough. He just wanted to tell Risebrough face-to-face, "Thank you, and I'm so sorry" -- regardless of the fact that he was in pain and woozy.

This was the real Boogaard, not the person who rearranged faces for a living. 

Fans showed their appreciation tonight during so many touching ways, I can't even begin to describe. It was just such a sad thing to see the torment Boogaard's family was going through. After all, Derek had passed away just 48 hours before.

But the family was so touched that Wild fans had organized this memorial, they felt it was incumbent upon them to show. It had to be therapeutic, too.

His mother, Joanne, one of the nicest people ever, began crying the second she saw how many fans were in the lobby of the X. She was joined by Derek's father, Len, brothers Aaron and Ryan, sister, Krysten, half-brother, Curtis, Fletcher, former Wild teammates Brent Burns, Andrew Brunette, Niklas Backstrom, Nick Schultz, Stephane Veilleux, Wes Walz and the entire Wild training staff. There were several other friends and family, including his friend and agent Tobin Wright and boxing and martial arts trainer, Jeremy Clark.

Many in the Wild’s front office and scouting staff also attended, as did former Wild assistant GM Tommy Thompson, former director of hockey operations Chris Snow and former scout Todd Woodcroft.

The marquee video boards on the sides of the outside of the arena had scrolling pictures of Boogaard, inside there was video of Boogaard on a reel, there were pictures and flowers and signs.

This was all the brainchild of 19-year-old Katie Haag of St. Francis and 18-year-old Shelby Leske of Hutchinson.

This started with a simple Facebook "event" the night Boogaard died. They didn't have permission. They didn't ask if the building was available. They just knew in their heart what they had to do, and they did it.

It grew and grew. I was even a little squeamish about whether or not I was supposed to promote it. After all, the Wild wasn't putting it on and the family didn't know about it and they were mourning.

But this morning, Ryan Boogaard texted me that the family was going, and I instantly got it up on our site.

"Derek’s what made me love the game," said Leske.

"When Shelby texted me that he died, my eyes instantly shot up to the picture of Boogaard on my wall. I'm just like, 'he's too young,'" Haag said, trying to catch her breath. "His career was just starting, and I know all about the charities he did. All those kids loved him so much.

"I had no idea this was going to end up this big at all, which I’m glad. I’m not embarrassed by it at all. I’m proud. We were walking outside looking at all the news crews, and we said, 'This happened from 18- and 19-year-old girls."

It was an amazing gift to the family. I got to talk to his family after the event for awhile, and they were so genuinely touched. 

I feel compelled to share with you the transcipt of what the family said tonight at the memorial. It began with Aaron, but the grief was too much. So Krysten began, and Ryan stepped in.

I can't even explain how touching a scene this was to witness:

 

Krysten: On behalf of our entire family and all of Derek’s teammates from this year and year’s past, we want to say thank you for taking the time to come here and honor a man who was a son, a brother, a friend and teammate.

We know that Derek would want to thank the Minnesota Wild for allowing us to have this service here. The Wild gave Derek his first chance in believing in him against all odds and that he could provide contribution to the team. We know he would thank them for that. Secondly, we know Derek would thank the New York Rangers for the care they gave to him, the respect they showed him and the opportunity they provided him. And to all his teammates on all his teams, we know it was Derek’s opinion that you thought he was your comfort. In reality, everyday you guys gave Derek a reason to come to work.

Above all else, Derek put other people ahead of himself. Selfless in his hockey and selfless in his personal life. Derek’s life has been dedicated to helping other people first. Where there is a teammate in trouble on or off the ice, where there was a friend in need of a sympathetic ear or someone he met on the street, Derek always made that situation a priority. Judging by how many people have written our family and judging by the impact that Derek has had on our lives and everyone here tonight, it is obvious how much he has meant to a lot of people.

Derek is known everywhere he goes as larger than life, but in his heart, he is an everyman. The phrase we have most often seen written lately by his colleagues across the country, the hockey world and from other people that have meant the most to him, the fans, Derek was known as a ‘teddy bear.’

Our family couldn’t agree more with this assessment, but what is a teddy bear? A teddy bear is first and foremost a source of comfort , and having heard from his teammates, we know how much a comfort Derek provided on the ice. Secondly a teddy bear is dependable. Derek was dependable to a fault. You could depend on him for anything you needed at any time. Your priority became his priority.

Ryan: Thirdly, teddy bears are usually big, and while he couldn’t admit it, cuddly. You wouldn’t think of Derek as cuddly, but there wasn’t a person in our lives that had more love to give and more love to receive. Lastly, teddy bears are loyal. They’re a constant reminder of what is good in our lives. Love, trust, friendship and selflessness. Teddy bears give but don’t ask in return, and this is unconditional. There are no demands in return. Derek was a teddy bear, and always will be our teddy bear.

We aren’t here to talk about Derek’s hockey career because his hockey was just a seasonal thing for us. It was just an aspect of what he did, who he was. We’re here because we have lost a son, a brother, a role model and a friend. Derek quietly in his community life, not wanting the attention usually associated with these efforts, preferred to just roll up his sleeves and get down to business much like his work on the ice. This is how we choose to remember him and ask that you do the same. We know we will never forget who Derek was and who he is. We know that every friend he made and every teammate he played with will say the same thing about Derek.

Derek’s legacy will live with us every day. And for any of you that knows him or who have met him, no matter how briefly, we know that you too will be touched by the light that was Derek. While this light was extinguished too early, it will continue to burn strong for all of us that were privileged enough to know him and love him.

(Above is a pic of Len Boogaard and Aaron Boogaard looking at the tributes as fans sing Amazing Grace during a spine-tingling moment)

I've gotten a lot of emails and tweets this week asking how Brent Burns and Cal Clutterbuck were doing. I didn't want to bother Burns tonight because he was visibly down in the dumps, but I did get to talk to Clutterbuck on the phone. He's home in Ontario.

Clutterbuck was one of Boogaard’s closest friends when he played for the Wild. He returned from the World Championships in Slovakia, turned on his phone and was hit with the horrifying news.

“To me, it still feels kind of like a story. It seems like it really didn’t happen,” Clutterbuck said. “When I first got there, I was a young rookie and I had few conversations with the guys. But I sat besides Boogey in the room and I did things with him outside of hockey.

“He was fun to talk to every day. Just nothing things. We talked about nothing, and that was the best part.”
 

For Saturday's funeral details, see the blog that's two below this one.

For the Boogaard Memorial article in Monday's newspaper and a photo gallery, click this link

Lastly, and I'm sorry this has gotten overshadowed, but the Houston Aeros are two wins from the Calder Cup Finals. Tonight, the Aeros beat Hamilton 3-2 to go up 2 games to 0. Robbie Earl, Marco Scandella and Colton Gillies scored goals. Jared Spurgeon had two assists. Matt Hackett made 27 saves. For information, click this link

Also, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund today won a gold medal at the world championships during Finland's trouncing of Sweden. Martin Havlat and Marek Zidlicky won a bronze for the Czech's win over Russia.

Anyway, that was a longer blog than I anticipated. It's late. Good night everyone.

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