Tears began flowing from Joanne Boogaard's cheeks two hours before Sunday's game.
Derek Boogaard's mother stood somberly in front of Gate 1 at Xcel Energy Center -- the same spot where hundreds of fans showed up to memorialize the Wild player and pay their respects to his family mere days after Boogaard died May 13.
"Coming into this, I didn't think it was going to be this hard," said Boogaard's youngest brother, Aaron. "But seeing Mom -- Mom's already breaking down. That's what I'm not ready for."
In a special gesture that displayed wonderfully what Derek Boogaard meant to the Wild and its fans, the franchise paid tribute to him before Sunday's game against the Calgary Flames. His family -- which included Joanne, Aaron, father Len, brothers Ryan and Curtis, sister Krysten, grandparents Peter and Nancy and stepmother Jody -- was on hand.
"I remember the first game that I was here. It was against Calgary [Oct. 5, 2005]," Len Boogaard said before his eyes turned moist. "And this will probably be the last game I'll see here. And it's against Calgary."
Boogaard quickly became a fan favorite after that NHL debut, which was apparent Sunday when fans stood, cheered, laughed and cried during a five-minute video tribute that included comments from Wild players Nick Schultz and Josh Harding, former Wild players Marian Gaborik, Andrew Brunette and Brent Burns and ex-Rangers teammates Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust.
The Wild presented the Boogaards with a painting, added a Boogaard memorial to the main concourse of the arena and donated $10,000 to Boogaard's favorite charity, Defending the Blue Line.
"Anybody who knew Derek knew what he was like as a person," said Aaron Boogaard, who was signed by the Wild in September to a minor league contract and is playing for Rio Grande Valley in the Central Hockey League. "The fans only got to see him on the ice. On the ice and off the ice, he was completely different, and you loved him for both.
"Minnesota's showing a really good side of him that wasn't really shown this summer as much. It's just to see the better parts of Derek -- the real parts."
Boogaard died in his Minneapolis apartment from a toxic mix of alcohol and painkillers. He long battled addiction and tried to beat it unsuccessfully in rehab.
"It's a disease, and sometimes it just gets a hold of you," Aaron Boogaard said. "Some of the best people out there can't beat it. It's a shame."
The Boogaards were appreciative of the Wild putting the tribute together.
"There's nothing I can say, nothing I can do to express my gratitude for what they've done for us as a family since Derek died and during Derek's time here," said Len Boogaard, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who hasn't worked since the day Derek died.
"This brings everything flooding back in terms of emotion. It's still hard to believe it's a little more than six months that have gone by. I still find it hard to wrap my hands around this."