The Boogeyman Drops the Gloves

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

The Boogeyman took his share of beatings. After one fight, his opponent ripped the name off Boogaard's jersey and tossed it to the crowd, like a matador circling the ring with an ear at a bullfight.

Another kid cut short the Boogeyman's rookie season by breaking his jaw. "That sucked," the Boogeyman says, stroking his mandible. "I don't think you'd wish that on anybody."

But the Boogeyman didn't let it discourage him from his profession. After his jaw healed, he skated up to the kid and asked, "You wanna go?"

Nick Vlcek

The challenge was keeping his cool. On April 9, 2001, after the buzzer sounded in the Cougars' losing effort to the Portland Winter Hawks, the Boogeyman ran over the opposing goalie—a cardinal sin in hockey. Making matters worse, the net minder had bent down to pick up the puck as a souvenir of his first playoff victory.

The WHL brought swift punishment, suspending the Boogeyman for seven games to be served the following season. But the time off did little to quell the Boogeyman's fury. His second game back, he again lost control, manhandling a linesman and flipping off a referee.

The league suspended him for four more games, and summoned him to a disciplinary meeting to deliver a message: Clean up your act, or your pro career will be over before it has a chance to begin.

Soon after, the Boogeyman learned he'd been traded to the Medicine Hat Tigers. As he waited to board his flight, the Boogeyman gave an interview to a reporter from the Prince George Citizen. When asked what it would be like to play his old teammates, the Boogeyman pulled no punches.

"There's a few guys I'll look for," he said. "I won't tell you who. I'll keep the guys in suspense."

The Minnesota Wild drafted the Boogeyman in the seventh round of the 2001 NHL entry draft, making him the 202nd overall pick.

"He was a huge guy that appeared to be just getting his coordination," says Tom Thompson, the Wild assistant general manager in charge of the draft. "It's more like an enhanced basketball build than what you'd see in hockey."

But being drafted didn't necessarily mean that the Boogeyman would ever see the ice in the NHL. Teams often have to pick three enforcers to get one who pans out, Thompson says. "You didn't misjudge what you see on the ice. They just don't have the personality to adjust to this."

After self-combusting in Prince George, the Boogeyman wasn't looking like a good bet. So Barry MacKenzie, the Wild's director of player development, paid a visit to Medicine Hat.

On his first night in town, MacKenzie asked, "Where do you want to go to supper?"

"Earl's," the Boogeyman said, referring to a nice restaurant in town.

The next day, MacKenzie watched the Boogeyman in practice. He was listless.

"Derek, if I was coaching, I would have kicked you off the ice in 10 minutes," MacKenzie said. "Your concept of working and mine are totally opposite."

That night, MacKenzie took the Boogeyman to McDonald's. In case his meaning wasn't clear, MacKenzie spelled it out: "If your work ethic doesn't change, you're not going to have enough money to go to Earl's."

The Boogeyman, now 21, arrived in Houston ready to work. Playing for the Aeros, the Wild's minor league affiliate in the AHL, would bring no glory to the Boogeyman. More often than not, the cavernous Toyota Center was a sea of empty seats, a few thousand fans in a 17,800-capacity arena.

"If you can't skate and you can't make plays, you're not going on the ice for Coach Jacques Lemaire," says Cam Stewart, an Aeros assistant coach. "I don't care if you're King Kong."

Boogaard had a long way to go. Stewart remembers the day when he noticed that the Boogeyman's skates were chewed up like a dog's toy.

"Boogey, what's wrong with your skates?"

"Oh, I don't sharpen them," the Boogeyman answered matter-of-factly. "I think I've only sharpened them once all year."

That day after practice, Stewart taught the Boogeyman how to sharpen his skates and lace them up properly.

Skating wasn't the only skill he practiced. The Wild arranged for the Boogeyman to train with former professional boxer Scott LeDoux in Minneapolis. LeDoux knew that a hockey fight isn't the same as going ten rounds in the ring. Still, the sweet science had something to offer the Boogeyman.

"I taught him how to turn the shoulders and square up when he started fighting on the ice," LeDoux says. "Turn your upper torso and just fire down the chute, right down the middle, left-right, left-right."

Jacques Lemaire, the Wild's head coach, remembers seeing the Boogeyman on the ice in Houston. "I thought he wouldn't play," Lemaire recalls. "We were close to sending him down."

But when the Boogeyman showed up the next year at the Wild's training camp, he had improved considerably.

"He works hard," Lemaire says. "He's the most disciplined tough player I've ever coached."

"Here we go! Gillies mixing it up with Boogaard," the announcer says. "And they drop the mitts!"

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