Last month, at a forum in Canada on concussions and sports, the Mountie sitting in the audience stirred and considered asking a question. But at his wife’s urging, Derek Boogaard’s father held off.
Six years after his son, the former Minnesota Wild enforcer, died at age 28 while battling an addiction to prescription pain-killers, Len Boogaard is still looking for an answer to this question: “What is the NHL going to do about fighting?”
The Boogaard story has been told a number of times since Derek’s death, and his father has wrestled with the role he helped create is raising a son who became a professional hockey player much more for his fighting skills than anything else.
The arc of Boogaard’s life and death was told again recently by the Toronto Globe and Mail. It was also the subject of a 20-4 book by New York Times reporter John Branch, “Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard.”
Boogaard’s parents cooperated with Branch when he researched the book, but Len told Globe and Mail reporter Roy McGregor that he hasn’t been able to read it: “I can deal with talking about Derek and his addiction and the doctors and all that stuff, but when I have to read about his upbringing and all that he went through, … I can’t. It’s the same with my wife and the others. They can’t read it, either.”
Len Boogaard told the Globe and Mail that any changes in hockey’s culture are more likely to come from the United States than Canada, where fighting is common at the junior level and where Derek Boogaard first made his reputation as a brawler.
“Americans seem to be more interested in resolving this and doing something about the situation,” Len Boogaard said. “It’s a sacred cow here in Canada. You can’t say anything derogatory or negative about hockey.”
In the story, Len Boogaard talks about the role he played in shaping his son’s career – “I didn’t know anything about concussions.” -- and says that he now can’t watch a National Hockey League game.
“I watched the World Cup and that was hockey,” he told the Globe and Mail. “ None of this … fights, scrums in front of the net all the time. It was just up and down hockey.”
So what would Len Boogaard like to see? Something very simple: A complete ban on fighting in hockey.
“How do you square the circle where they want to get rid of headshots but they allow fighting in the league?” he asked. “What am I missing?”