MINNEAPOLIS -- Hundreds of people -- including fans, friends, teammates and family -- gathered Sunday in an emotional and heart-wrenching memorial in honor of former NHL player Derek Boogaard, 28, who passed away Friday.
Approximately 350 people flocked to Gate 1 of the Xcel Energy Center to pay tribute to Boogaard, leaving flowers, lending support and sharing memories of their favorite enforcer. Members of the Wild, including general manager Chuck Fletcher and several players, also attended.
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Boogaard's siblings -- sister Krysten and brothers Ryan and Aaron -- thanked those in attendance and the NHL community for the overwhelming support they have received since their brother's death.
Aaron was the first to approach the podium, but he broke down in tears and could not speak. His father, Len, pulled him into a lengthy embrace as mother Joanne and half-brother Curtis flanked him.
"On behalf of our entire family and all of Derek's teammates from this year and years past, we want to thank you for taking the time to come here and honor the man who was a son, brother, a friend and a teammate," said Krysten, a basketball player at Kansas.
"Judging by how many people have written our family, and judging by the impact Derek has had on our lives and everyone here tonight, it is obvious how much he has meant to a lot of people," she said.
Ryan described his 6-7, 265-pound older brother as a big man with an even bigger heart. "You wouldn't think of Derek as cuddly,'' he said, "but there wasn't a person in our life that had more love to give and more love to receive. Derek was our teddy bear and always will be our teddy bear."
The ceremony, put together by two teenage girls on Facebook Friday, was a poignant sendoff to Boogaard, whose funeral is scheduled to be held in his native Saskatchewan next weekend. The turnout included fans who brought their kids, wore their favorite Boogaard jerseys and made hand-painted signs to celebrate his life.
Former teammate Wes Walz shared funny stories about Boogaard, Fletcher bemoaned his loss to the hockey community and fans broke into an impromptu rendition of "Amazing Grace" as the event came to a close.
There also was a photo montage playing on the big screen outside the southwest entrance of Xcel Energy Center. His family lingered after the event, looking overwhelmed by the turnout and grateful for the support.
"Derek's legacy will live with us every day. For any of you that knew him or have met him, no matter how briefly, we know that you too will be touched by the light that was Derek," Ryan said. "While this light was extinguished too early, it will continue to burn strong for all of us that were privileged enough to know him and love him."
Diane Frankenberg, 52, of White Bear Lake, Minn., was among those in attendance. "Oh, gosh, I just wanted to pay respect to him and his family," she said.
It was a night of tears, laughter and fond memories for a man beloved by his family, teammates and fans. Said Frankenberg, "I hope the family sees that, that the fans really loved him."
Looking for answers. Boogaard's family has donated his brain to the Boston University School of Medicine and has asked researchers to look into whether concussions played a role in his death, a university spokeswoman confirmed to The Associated Press. The results of an autopsy are not expected to be released for several weeks.
With additional reporting by Jim Baumbach in New York