A tearful Minnesota goodbye for Boogaard

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 2011 - 9:07 AM

Derek Boogaard's family joined the popular player's friends, fans and former teammates at Xcel Energy Center for an emotional memorial.

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Len Boogaard woke up Sunday morning and realized his worst nightmare was still all too real.

His oldest son is gone.

"I keep expecting him to walk through the door," said Derek Boogaard's father, tears escaping his glassy eyes.

So Len Boogaard walked out the door. His car directed him to Xcel Energy Center, a little shorter drive than the 2,000-mile one he made from Nova Scotia on Oct. 5, 2005, to watch his son's first NHL game.

"I just wanted to walk around, take one last look," Len Boogaard said of his morning visit. "I remember staying at the Holiday Inn across the street. They had all the streets blocked off because it was the first game. Derek dressed up in his suit. I was so proud. I was standing at the window and watched him weave his way through the crowd.

"Nobody paid any attention to him. They didn't know who the heck he was."

Boogaard paused, pointed and said, "Look at how that changed."

Boogaard was talking about the 350 very sad Wild fans, many wearing Wild jerseys and equipped with signs and pictures, in front of him. Two days after their favorite enforcer was found dead, the fans flocked to Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night to pay their respects to Boogaard's devastated family.

Len and Joanne Boogaard were joined by Derek's brothers, Ryan and Aaron, sister, Krysten, half-brother, Curtis, a slew of other family and friends, former Wild teammates Brent Burns, Andrew Brunette, Niklas Backstrom, Nick Schultz, Stephane Veilleux, Wes Walz and the entire Wild training staff.

"I just look at the fans and can't believe it," Len Boogaard said.

The memorial was funny at times, especially when Walz spoke about how nobody wanted to skate against the 6-8 behemoth in early-year scrimmages. At times, it was heart-warming, especially when Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher talked about his memories of Boogaard and Burns wrestling on the ice and how compassionate Boogaard was with children and charities.

And at times it was downright tear-inducing, especially when his family courageously spoke.

Youngest brother Aaron tried to get the words out but choked up immediately. He was embraced during a gut-wrenching scene by his mother, father and half-brother.

Krysten, who was supposed to attend her graduation ceremony from the University of Kansas on Friday, took the microphone.

"Derek is known everywhere he goes as larger-than-life, but in his heart he is an everyman," Krysten said.

Noting how Wild and Rangers players have described big bro as a "teddy bear," Krysten noted teddy bears are a source of comfort and dependable, two of her brother's best traits.

When emotions intervened, Ryan took over: "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.

"... Derek was a teddy bear, and always will be our teddy bear."

When the memorial was over, fans didn't want to leave. As Len and Aaron cried in each other's arms while looking at the flowers and tributes, fans began singing "Amazing Grace.''

The memorial was the brainchild of Wild fans Katie Haag, 19, of St. Francis and Shelby Leske, 18, of Hutchinson.

They never could have envisioned what a gift this would be for Boogaard's family. It began as an "event" on Facebook and grew.

Derek Boogaard meant a lot to both young women, who got to present Derek's appreciative mother with flowers.

"I met him a couple summers ago," Leske said, thinking back to meeting Boogaard at a Wild summer road tour in Hutchinson with her brother, Tyler, who's in the National Guard. "My brother was on a two-week leave from Iraq, and my brother and I didn't have a very good relationship at the time.

"We got there like four hours early, we waited in line to meet him and my brother and I got really close during that time. We were the first ones to meet him, and he was just like the nicest guy ever."

Derek Boogaard will be cremated Monday and taken home to Regina, Saskatchewan, on Tuesday by his mother. The funeral will start at 10 a.m. (Mountain time) Saturday at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Depot, the training facility where RCMP members do their training before becoming full-fledged members.

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