Boogaard remembered as a gentle giant

Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers skates Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers skates against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. (Dec. 2, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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MINNEAPOLIS -- As much as hulking enforcer Derek Boogaard was feared on the ice and revered as one of the toughest fighters in the NHL, those who knew him well spoke fondly of him as a person.

The 6-7, 265-pound tough guy, who died Friday at his Minneapolis apartment, racked up 589 career penalty minutes in six seasons in the NHL. But to teammates, coaches and friends, his lasting image is that of a gentle giant.

"Like I always describe him, he's a big teddy bear," Rangers teammate Ruslan Fedotenko told Newsday at a community event in Manhattan Saturday morning. "He's big, he's a giant, but he's soft. He has a soft heart and he's a caring person."

The towering native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who signed with the Rangers last July, was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the seventh round in 2001. He became a fan favorite during his five seasons with the Wild from 2005-10, earning the nickname of "The Boogey Man" for his ability to brawl.

But his brawling belied the man who was caring and tender, and that is what made him such a special person, Fedotenko said.

"He was a great teammate, and maybe not everyone can see that because they see him on the ice fighting and doing his job,'' Fedotenko said. "But inside and outside hockey, he was this very soft, caring, just great person."

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Boogaard's former Minnesota Wild coach, Jacques Lemaire, reached by phone Saturday, echoed Fedotenko's sentiments.

"On the ice, he was a guy that always got the respect from guys on other teams. He worked hard to reach his goals, especially to play in the NHL," Lemaire said. "Off the ice, he was a totally different person. He was a nice guy who all the players always wanted to hang out with and talk to."

Boogaard signed a four-year, $6.5-million deal with the Rangers in July but was limited to 22 games because of a concussion in December that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Missing that amount of time was frustrating to Boogaard, according to friend Devin Wilson, who played junior hockey with him in Prince George, British Columbia. Wilson said that left Boogaard depressed at times.

"It was the expectation of living up to his contract. And he didn't want to let down, or his coach, or most importantly, his teammates," said Wilson, who had plans to move into an apartment with Boogaard on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Wilson wants Boogaard remembered for all the positive things he brought to those around him. "He dreamed big,'' he said. "He was always talking about these big adventures. He had an unbelievable thirst for life. And he never said a bad word about anybody. He always took the positives from everybody. The thing I want people to take away from all this is that he is one of those guys that is an honor and privilege to be buddies with."

Goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who played with Boogaard with the Wild in 2005-06, also remembered him fondly. When reached via text message before Saturday night's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, Roloson said, "Great person, great teammate. He did all the little things to help his team."

Boogaard was noted for his work in the community during his brief time with the Rangers.

"He's very, very big in supporting the troops," Fedotenko said. "He was working with [the military] and was trying to get some guys to go and visit them to give support for our troops. That always stuck in my mind."

Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert, whose No. 7 hangs from the rafters at Madison Square Garden, also noted that.

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"I enjoyed talking to him and admired his commitment to the community. He wanted to give something back. He was a very gentle person," Gilbert said. "Certainly as a person, he was a gentle giant who cared about his teammates and the community. We were so happy to have him. This is all so very sad."

Said Ron Salcer, Boogaard's agent: "I've represented hockey players for 30 years. Most of them come from good homes, good families and have good morals and ethics. Derek epitomized that. This is a very sad time and I'm devastated for his family."

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