By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
They talk about the Boogeyman as if he were another species. At six-foot, seven-inches tall—add three inches in skates—the Wild left winger stands a head above most NHL players (one writer describes him as "yeti-like"). Weighing 250 pounds, he has a gorilla's arms and hands the size of concrete blocks. They're always thrown with bad intentions.
But when Derek "the Boogeyman" Boogaard arrives to meet the press, he almost looks like a model out of GQ. Wire-rim spectacles perch upon an improbably straight nose. His chiseled chin rests on battle-scarred knuckles. The Boogeyman has assumed the pose of The Thinker. He is in a thoughtful mood.
"I've been dating her since November," the Boogeyman says, his voice so soothing he could have a second career in hypnotherapy. "We met through a good friend and it just took off from there." He's talking about his girlfriend, Erin. Wild fans know about her because she has a MySpace page, which turned up in a chat room after another woman expressed a desire to marry the Boogeyman. The Boogeyman has a MySpace page, too, which he mostly uses to send cutesy messages to Erin. "Just stupid little things. Inside jokes that we have."
The Boogeyman has been scratched today, due to a nagging back injury. He's watching the game on TV out of one corner of his eye, helping the team in the only way he can right now: publicity.
He hates not being able to play. There's nothing that makes the Boogeyman happier than fighting for his team. Before Christmas, when he was out for a month, his teammate Pavol Demitra suffered a concussion from a nasty hit. The Boogeyman couldn't help but feel responsible. If he'd been playing, no one would have dared.
It's March 11—44 days since the Boogeyman's last fight—and he's starting to get the itch.
Fighting has been part of the National Hockey League since its inception in 1917. The sport has always valued toughness as much as finesse.
NHL rule makers have traditionally taken a forgiving approach to fighting. Where other sports suspend players and fine them, hockey delivers a mere five-minute penalty. Sometimes a player will fight twice in the same game.
By the 1970s, fighting had woven itself so thoroughly into the NHL's DNA that it was part of any winning gameplan. Philadelphia's Broadstreet Bullies didn't play so much as pillage, laying waste to other teams' rosters. Two Stanley cups were their reward.
To counteract that strategy, teams began employing players sheerly to serve as body guards for the smaller, more nimble goalscorers. Known by many names—goon, tough guy, enforcer—they were required to police the ice.
Apologists argue that fighting is a safer release for aggression than the alternative: high stick work that can crack a rib or slice up a guy's face. Plus, fans like fights. A good scrap is as likely to make the highlight reel as a goal.
"Sometimes it's to light a spark, other times it's to defend a teammate," says David Singer, whose website, Hockeyfights.com, has gone from a labor of love to something players name-check in post-game interviews. "It's usually pretty fast, usually nobody's hurt, and the game is brought up to a different level afterwards."
In recent weeks, though, several ugly incidents have cast a harsh spotlight on hockey fighting. Earlier this month, the NHL levied the third-longest suspension in its history—25 games—against New York Islanders winger Chris Simon for his two-handed stick swing at New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg. And on March 21, Todd Fedoruk got cold-cocked by the Rangers' Colton Orr and had to leave the ice on a stretcher.
"I'm not afraid to talk about the fact that we should look at fighting in hockey," NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell told the news agency Canadian Press last week. "I think you have to ask the question because of what's happening out there. It's incumbent on me, because of my position, to ask the question.
"I think if you had discussed this even three or four years ago, you would have got pooh-poohed out of the game. But now I think because of the size of our players, where we're at in sports and in life, I think we have to look at it."
Which is why the Boogeyman may be the NHL's worst nightmare.
"And now we got a fight at center ice!" the announcer says. "The guys we've waited all night for: Boogaard and Goddard!"
It's January 9, and the Wild are playing in Calgary. The Boogeyman has just dropped the gloves—the opening bell of any good hockey fight—with Eric Goddard. The Boogeyman is about to lose. Badly.
Goddard catches him behind the ear and the Boogeyman drops to one knee. He stands up, only to be knocked down by a blow to the temple.
"Wow! The fans are standing at the Pengrowth Saddledome for Eric Goddard!" the announcer shouts.
"You don't see that happen very often," says the color commentator. "Boogaard was a little dazed. He was going to the wrong penalty box."