The Wild's Derek Boogaard has made his name with his fists, a talent he honed fighting his brothers and sisters. To Derek Boogaard's family, the Wild heavyweight is a sweetheart of a guy, even when he's pounding on his younger brother.
In most families, when brothers fight, Mom comes sprinting downstairs screaming and yelling.
But the Boogaards are not your typical family.
In fact, when Derek Boogaard, the Wild enforcer and king NHL heavyweight, punches Aaron Boogaard, the former Wild prospect and recent Pittsburgh Penguins signee, Mom smiles and snaps photos.
"At least they're wearing gloves now," said Joanne Boogaard this past July at Lonsdale Boxing Club in Regina, Saskatchewan. "Before it was the fists. And they went into the drywall."
This summer, twice a week, the Boogaards headed down to the 6,500-square-foot boxing facility owned by Frank Fiacco to throw haymakers, not just at innocent 250-pound punching bags, but at each other's faces.
On one July evening, the two hopped in the ring -- with Joanne, 23-year-old brother Ryan and 19-year-old sister Krysten looking on and taking pictures -- and proceeded to pound each other into oblivion.
"Aaron's getting better," Joanne noticed. "He's not bloody."
Last summer, Derek (6-7, 254 pounds) vs. Aaron (6-3, 220) was not a fair fight. But Aaron has stacked on the muscle and now presents Derek with a challenge.
"Last year, Derek was in a grouchy mood all day and Aaron was bugging him all day," said Ryan, Derek and Aaron's part-time PR guy and fight scout. "They came out here, and Aaron came home with two black eyes and was wearing sunglasses for a couple days."
Derek, justifying his actions, said: "He kept hitting me in the nose, you know? It just started bleeding every time, so I finally got ticked off."
Put 'em up, sis
Becoming one of the NHL's most feared heavyweights took some practice growing up. There were the infamous wrestling matches, not just between Derek, Ryan and Aaron, who was assigned to AHL Wilkes-Barre last week, but sister Krysten, who stands 6-4 and will be a freshman basketball player at the University of Kansas.
"She's freakishly big," Derek kidded.
The childhood bouts made for lots of damage.
"We've got lots of home videos of us going at it," said Ryan, who is following in father Len's footsteps and becoming a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer. "We were pretty scrappy kids. Mum was always at the hospital taking one or two of us because of the mischief we'd get in.
"It wasn't just us. One time we were kind of running away from the baby-sitter around the house. She chased one of us down the stairs, and she ended up breaking her leg. She didn't want to baby-sit us anymore."Thank God the health care in Saskatchewan is free," Joanne said.
Fight camp, and more
It was a busy summer for Derek Boogaard. The most fun he had was playing in two charity hockey games put on by teammate Pavol Demitra in Trencin, Slovakia, and Prostejov, Czech Republic. The games featured stars Jaromir Jagr, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and Martin Straka.
"Boogey was the only guy not skilled there," Gaborik said, grinning.
"Seriously, you should have seen these guys skating around," Boogaard said. "Imagine all those players, and then me? Before I went on the ice during introductions, they showed my hits and knockouts on the big screen. The buildings were just dead silent.
"Pav said, 'They've never seen anything like that.' Every time I went on the ice, you could hear the crowd pick up, like I was going hit somebody or fight somebody."
And of course, there was the series of fight camps put on by the Boogaard brothers. Three times, more than a dozen children between the ages of 12 and 18 were taken under the tutelage of two of the sport's toughest combatants.
Of course, Derek Boogaard took a lot of flak and even went on CNN and Fox News to defend himself.
"It's fine," Boogaard said. "It was probably 70 percent people for it, 30 percent people against it. Any publicity is good publicity."
Asked if he had a problem with the Derek & Aaron Boogaard Fighting Camp, Wild GM Doug Risebrough said, laughing: "No, because I know the kid, and would you go to Derek Boogaard power skating school? He's trying to do something good for Regina, and the kids were having fun. And Boogey's great with kids. When we do these public events, he might be the No. 1 guy because he's big and he gets them up on his shoulder and he's a soft, cuddly guy and kids are hanging on him. He's a likable guy.
"I guess, if I was guiding him, I would have said, 'Make another choice of the name of your camp.' But his intentions were all good. His heart was all good."
Pride and concern
For years, mom Joanne has had to deal with the tension of watching Derek fight professionally. It can be stressful, like last season when Derek sprained his ankle during a fight with Georges Laraque and sustained a concussion during a fight with Eric Godard.
It can also be stressful when Derek's the victor. His classic fight last October with Todd Fedoruk was one for the ages. Fedoruk chased Boogaard up the ice and paid for it. Boogaard set up with his left hand, then nailed Fedoruk with a mammoth right uppercut that shattered the fighter's left cheek.
"I mean, I'm glad it wasn't Derek laying there, but that was a hard one to swallow," Joanne said. "I felt bad for [Fedoruk]. I feel sorry for the moms watching that.
"I feel bad for what people might think about Derek because on the flip side, he's a big teddy bear."
Michael Russo firstname.lastname@example.org
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