Leaving a loving legacy
Last Updated: 12:44 AM, May 16, 2011
The fact Derek Boogaard had been receiving counseling through the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program in the days preceding his death does not diminish the big man's legacy in the least.
And neither will the results of the autopsy, when the findings into the cause of the 28-year-old's death on Friday are released within the next couple of weeks by the office of the Hennepin County (Minn.) Medical Examiner, whatever they might reveal.
Boogaard lived his life as a friendly, generous, giving man who enriched the lives of those who knew him personally and those who only knew him by his uniform number, or maybe only by the number of fights in which he engaged during his six-year NHL career.
He was -- and it's applying the past tense here that just makes no sense at all -- an everyman with the size, ability and punching prowess to make it to the world's greatest hockey league without ever forgetting his roots, without ever assuming a guise, without ever forgetting to smile.
The knowledge Boogaard had problems for which he sought professional help does not change who he was or the positive impact he had on those who knew him and counted him as a friend.
It does not detract from his generous nature that manifested itself through his charitable work in Minnesota and in New York, his connection with members of the military and their families, his rapport with his teammates and his fans.
Instead, it reminds us that Boogaard was man enough to seek help when he needed it.
That should only add to the appreciation of this 6-foot-7, 280-pound man, whose life was celebrated at a memorial service last night at Excel Arena in St. Paul arranged by fans, a service his family had planned to attend. Boogaard will be laid to rest on Saturday in Regina, Saskatchewan.
It's easy now to recognize from where and whom Boogaard inherited his generous nature given the decision of his parents, Joanne and Len, to donate their son's brain to the team at the Boston University Medical School conducting research on brain disease in athletes.
None of us can know the physical or psychological ramifications or damage that come from having a job in which the basic requirement is the willingness and ability to engage in a series of fist fights on ice skates, all the while taking punches to the head from opponents attempting to knock out their foes.
There is, however, an appreciation of these men in hockey, even if not always an appreciation of their roles, or a belief the heavyweight remains a necessary part of the sport or the NHL.
By and large, they're good people, these enforcers who risk their health every time they drop their gloves, with none larger than Boogaard, with none a better class of everyman people than Boogaard, whose heart and smile were as a big as Saskatchewan.
And who was a big enough man to ask for help when he needed it.
That doesn't mean he was weak.
It means he was strong.
That does not detract from his legacy.
It adds to it.