MINNEAPOLIS — Derek Boogaard wanted to wear another uniform following his hockey career.
Boogaard aspired to eventually join the military and, as a precursor, volunteered his time to assist military families while he played in the National Hockey_League with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers.
"The Boogeyman," as he was known, established Boogaard's Booguardians and invited military families to Rangers games during his one season in New York. He was also heavily involved with Defending The Blue Line, a Minneapolis-based non-profit charity which makes hockey accessible to children who have a parent in the military. DTBL was established two years ago when Boogaard was a member of the Wild.
In fact, Boogaard had intended to spend part of a mid-May weekend visiting with military personnel in the Twin Cities area in the company of his brothers Aaron and Ryan, who were visiting Minneapolis. Tragically, Aaron and Ryan found Derek dead in his apartment on May 13. He was 28.
"I talked to him a couple of days prior to (his death)," DTBL president and founder Shane Hudella said. "As always, he was trying to figure out if he could come visit with some of the soldiers. Unfortunately, his passing was right before that.
"It has been tough, but I'm really glad to see some (media) outlets covering the humanitarian work that he did and highlighting what a genuinely nice guy Derek was."
Hudella made the long, solo drive to Regina from Hastings, Minnesota, to attend Boogaard's funeral on Saturday at the RCMP Depot chapel. A 22-year member of the United States Army National Guard, Hudella had enjoyed several conversations with Boogaard about the military.
"He was so interested in the military, and I would talk to him literally for hours on end," Hudella recalled. "He was adamant that as soon as he was done playing hockey and could take care of his family, he was going to join the service. I'd joke with him and tell him, 'Derek, you big oaf. You're six-foot-eight. You're never going to fit in the tank, buddy.' "
Boogaard had also made his post-hockey goals known to his agent, Ron Salcer.
"He always talked about (joining the military)," Salcer said. "He said, 'I want to go get the bad guys.' It was going to be a future and it was going to be a lifestyle for him.
"He's got a father (Len) and a brother (Ryan) who are both in the RCMP, and I think that was kind of in his blood. He had a passion for guns and military and training. That was in his future in his life after hockey."
Brent Burns, Boogaard's roommate for five seasons with the Wild, was the first NHL player to lend his time to DTBL. He quickly suggested to Hudella: "You've got to meet Boogs. He's going to love this cause, too."
Sure enough, he did.
"Right from the start, he was just fascinated with what we were doing — not only with kids, but he was also fascinated with service members like myself and the other guys in the foundation who have served in the military for a long time,'' Hudella said. "He just wanted to know the answer to every question about how everything worked."
DTBL had an early foundation with the Wild and the Anaheim Ducks. In the latter case, Ducks enforcer George Parros spearheaded the DTBL's migration to Southern California.
When Boogaard left Minnesota as a free agent to sign a lucrative contract with the Rangers last summer, he quickly contacted Hudella about establishing a DTBL chapter in the New York area.
"He was so good about taking time with the kids and the families, and with signing autographs whenever we had an event or a special guest," Hudella said. "He really put us on the map as far as our ability to grow nationally.
"We've talked about expansion up into Canada, because taking care of our Canadian service members is very important to us as well. We're just trying to control that growth now. We're definitely going to miss Derek because he was a key part of that growth, in addition to being a first-class guy and a good friend."
In his memory, his family asked that donations be made to the Boogaard's Booguardians Memorial Fund or Defending The Blue Line.
"It's tough to lose Derek, because you get close to someone," Hudella said. "The best analogy I could make is you feel like you've lost a battle buddy. It's hard, but you've got to drive on."
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