The Boogeyman Drops the Gloves

Derek Boogaard is one of the most feared enforcers in the NHL. You wanna go?

"How about that?"

"And Derek Boogaard is going for attention."

"Off the ice he goes."

The Boogeyman takes the long walk of a defeated man. Somewhere, his family is watching, wondering whether he's all right.

Back in the locker room, the Boogeyman uses his punch-sore fingers to type a text message to his 22-year-old brother, Ryan: "HOW THE HELL DID HE GET HIS RIGHT FREE?"

Ryan is his brother's keeper. He checks out the Boogeyman's opponents on YouTube before each game and gives Derek a scouting report.

"There's quite a few tendencies you can look for," Ryan explains. "Whether they're a lefty or a righty, whether they can switch up if they get in trouble, whether they throw a lot of punches without a lot of power behind them."

The Boogeyman learned how to fight early on. His father's job as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer meant his family would pull up stakes and move every four or five years, skipping through northern hamlets like Saskatoon, Stroud, and Herbert. Always the new kid, Derek also had his father's job in law enforcement working against him.

"That was inevitable, because here I am the cop in town," says Len Boogaard, the Boogeyman's 52-year-old father. "If I gave somebody a ticket, it would invariably be taken out on the kids."

Young Derek channeled his aggression onto the ice. At times, the other parents wondered whether the man-child was fully in control of his prodigious physical gifts.

"He was gangly, he was gawky, he was very awkward at skating, and he was aggressive. And that didn't sit well with the parents," Len says.

By age 15, the Boogeyman was ready to hang up his skates. He was tired of being treated like a circus sideshow, laughed at and jeered for his clumsiness.

But Floyd Halcro, a family friend who coached youth hockey, interceded. "Come play for me," Halcro told him. "It'll be fun."

That summer, the Boogeyman hit his growth spurt, sprouting 10 inches in a matter of months. "I remember my parents talking about spending like $200 to $300 a week on groceries alone," the Boogeyman says. "That's insane."

Derek's increased size made him a big target. Other teams would send out two tough guys to bait him into a fight just to get him out of the game. "Then their other guy could beat the shit out of our smaller guys," Halcro says.

The extra girth also brought complaints from rival teams. It got so bad that one referee had to skate over to the other bench and say, "I can't give him a penalty for being six-foot-four."

The Boogeyman speaks about his first big scrap in the awed tones of a man discussing his epiphany: "I just got pissed off, really mad about something. And I just fought and fought—fought one kid, fought another kid. I don't know how it happened, but I was in their bench asking the whole team to fight."

That was the day the Boogeyman was discovered. Todd Ripplinger, the director of scouting for the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats, was in the stands. The Pats were in the market for an enforcer, and Ripplinger was impressed with the enthusiasm Boogaard brought to his work.

"It took both linesmen to drag him off the ice!" Ripplinger recalls, some eight years later.

The Boogeyman, a hulking 16-year-old, knew exactly what he'd been brought in to do. On his first shift in Regina, he dropped the gloves with the team's top heavyweight and beat him.

There was a new tough guy in town, complete with a new nickname.

"During the year, we called him the Boogeyman," Ripplinger says. "I guess it stuck."

 

The Boogeyman streaks at his target like a heat-seeking missile. But then the other player somehow manages to slip out of the way. The Boogeyman slams the glass, shatters it, then continues his trajectory like a passenger ejected through the windshield.

"Oh my God!" a man screams

"Holy shit!" says another.

The Boogeyman gathers himself, dusts glass shards off his uniform, and looks up at the camera. Although his face is cast in shadows, if you squint, you'd swear he was smiling.

It's September 2001, and the Boogeyman is playing in Traverse City, Michigan, in a tournament for NHL prospects. At 18 years old, he's just earned his first ESPN highlight—though not in the way he'd hoped.

After a short stint, the Pats had traded the Boogeyman to the Prince George Cougars, where he was embraced like a long-lost relative.

"Boogey was Prince George's type of guy," says Ed Dempsey, then the head coach. "It's a rough-and-tumble logging town, and they really take to guys like Derek."

Life in the Western Hockey League—the first rung of the minor leagues—was like the Wild West. The team's coaches sent in the Boogeyman to administer his bare-knuckled justice every night, it seemed.

"These last few years my hand's been really good. But before when I was having 30, 40 fights a year, it was pretty swollen and sore," the Boogeyman says, contemplating a fist that's been broken so many times that several knuckles have disappeared beneath a layer of scar tissue. "It was pretty painful at night, but I don't regret it."

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