Sportsnet mag: Fall of the Boogeyman

This story originally appeared in the debut issue of Sportsnet magazine in September 2011.

Friends talk about the pain, the depression, and the drugs that toppled the NHL’s most feared enforcer. Piecing together Derek Boogaard’s final days.

He drops his gloves and raises his fists in an NHL game for the 61st time.

This is what he does and how he plays the game.

He is Derek ‘The Boogeyman’ Boogaard, the heavyweight champion of the NHL, a bare-knuckle brawler who once shattered an opponent’s face with a single right hand. At six-foot-seven and 265 lb., he is the most intimidating player since Bob Probert. But right now he’s being pushed around by an older, smaller man.

Matt Carkner of the Ottawa Senators throws his gloves in the air and lunges for the Boogeyman’s sweater, latches on with his left hand and drives his clenched right fist into the Boogeyman’s face. His nose breaks as it has so many times before. He staggers toward the boards, dazed, as he takes one, two, three, four straight lefts to the chin. This fight is pretty much over, but it doesn’t end until Carkner kicks his skates out from under him and flips him to the ice. They fall together, with the combined weight of 503 lb., driving the Boogeyman’s shoulder and then his head into the ice.

The Boogeyman has fallen hard and fast, but Derek Boogaard’s fall is not yet complete.

It’s Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. A cold winter’s night in Ottawa and Boogaard, age 28, has just fought his last fight and played his last game. He is hurt, worse than he has ever been hurt before. His shoulder is mangled and his brain is badly concussed.

He hides the pain; he always has. But he is not himself tonight. He is a lonely man with hockey’s loneliest job.

The crowd cheers as a ref helps him to his skates and points him to the dark tunnel behind the Rangers’ bench. He bows his head as he enters the darkness alone.

Over the next five months he’ll struggle with post-concussion syndrome, depression, and a growing addiction to painkillers. And in exactly 155 days, his brothers will find him in his bed and won’t be able to wake him up.

Becoming the Boogeyman

Rewind 13 years. It’s Friday, Dec. 12, 1997. A mild but windy winter’s night in Melfort, a farming town 175 km northeast of Saskatoon. Todd Ripplinger, head scout with the Regina Pats, is one of a handful of Western Hockey League scouts sitting among parents in a community arena, watching two teams of 15-year-olds. On the ice is Derek Boogaard, a Melfort kid with gangly arms and little skill who, Ripplinger later recalls, looks like an awkward gorilla on skates.

In the final minutes of the third period, a player from the Rosetown Junior B squad slashes Melfort’s goalie. It sets off Boogaard. He makes for the kid. The Rosetown team comes to his defence. Boogaard starts throwing players around like bags of garbage. Then someone throws a punch at him.

“All hell,” as Ripplinger remembers, “is about to break loose.” Boogaard loses it. The linesmen grab him and try to escort him to the penalty box but there’s a fighter inside of him who wants to come out. Then someone on the Rosetown bench says something to him. Boogaard erupts. “He flings the linesmen off his arms like they’re nothing and starts going into Rosetown’s bench.” The officials pull Boogaard back onto the rink. As mad as he is, he cannot fight off the three men. He’s not strong enough. But he will be.

Then somebody from the bench beeps at him again. Boogaard breaks free of the ref’s grip. He starts skating back for the visitors’ bench. At that moment, a gate opens and an RCMP officer walks onto the ice. Ripplinger is shocked. “I say, ‘Oh my God. Did somebody phone the cops on this kid?’ The cop comes on the ice, steps into the slot, reaches out and grabs the kid by the scruff of his sweater and drags him off the ice.”

Ripplinger finds out later that the Mountie was Boogaard’s father, Len. It doesn’t matter. Ripplinger has seen enough. He puts in the paperwork that night and invites Boogaard to the Regina Pats’ training camp that summer.

Boogaard shows up bigger, stronger, and ready to fight like Probert, ‘The Bad One,’ his hero. Probert, another son of a cop, was the undisputed king of the rink from the moment the Red Wing pummelled the Canucks’ Craig Coxe into submission in his first NHL fight in 1985 until he retired in 2002. With dreams of making it to the NHL, Boogaard knows, like Probert before him, that his fists are his ticket. On the ice, Boogaard picks fights with other players trying out for the Pats. Off the ice, Ripplinger tells him, “You keep on acting like you are out there and guys are going to start calling you the Boogeyman.”

Boogaard smiles. He likes the name.

Born in Saskatoon in 1982, Boogaard first strapped on skates at the age of four and played wherever the Mounties posted his father. The Boogaards eventually settled in Herbert, a town with 941 people, a skating rink and little else. From Herbert they headed north to Melfort.

A poor student, Boogaard and his little brothers, Ryan and Aaron, treated the family living room like a boxing ring and began fighting for fun, something he would later call childhood training for his career as a hockey enforcer.

Derek Boogaard lost more than he won in his early years, but he liked to retell the moment he first dropped his gloves. He was 15 when a 20-year-old decided to pick a fight with him on the ice. “I said, ‘Okay,’ and I put his nose on the side of his head and that was pretty much it.”

Daryl Lubiniecki remembers spotting the 17-year-old Boogaard with the Pats before signing him to the Prince George Cougars. “He had trouble skating,” recalls Lubiniecki. “He wasn’t very skilled but I thought he could fit in with our team because we weren’t that big.” In Prince George, he’s also a pain in the ass. “He wasn’t a bad kid, but he liked to stay out,” Lubiniecki says. “He didn’t have much time or respect for curfews.” Boogaard’s off-ice antics take a toll on his relationship with Lubiniecki who, to this day, says he never thought Boogaard would amount to much in the NHL. But he keeps pushing himself, dropping the gloves and getting pummelled night after night as he learns his craft. “I had to learn the hard way,” Boogaard later said. “I got beat up a lot.”

The highlight of his WHL career is a double-overtime goal in the playoffs. It is his only goal in three years with the Cougars. The packed crowd erupts, his teammates pile onto him. The town’s people chant his name. “He could have run for mayor the next day,” Lubiniecki says of Boogaard’s popularity.

From Prince George, he goes to Medicine Hat, then to Louisiana, before landing with the Minnesota Wild’s farm team, the Houston Aeros. Along the way, he begins revelling in his role as an enforcer. With his brother Ryan’s help, he begins analyzing videos of his opponents’ fights. And he starts spending his off-seasons training in a Regina boxing gym with his youngest brother, Aaron. There, Boogaard learns to shift his weight, exploit his height, protect his chin and channel the force of his 265-lb. frame into the scarred and mangled knuckles that line his right fist.

After 50 fights with the Aeros, Boogaard and his fists are ready for the NHL.

No. 24

He busted his jaw, his hands and a few opponents’ faces to be here tonight. It’s Sunday, Oct. 16, 2005, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Derek Boogaard is stretching on the ice at the Xcel Energy Center in the pre-game warm-up. It’s his fourth game as a member of the Minnesota Wild. He’s wearing No. 24 tonight—Probert’s number. In the three seasons since Probert retired, his bloodied crown has yet to be passed down to the next generation.

Boogaard’s under pressure. He’s fighting for a permanent spot with the Wild. There’s a guy on Minnesota’s roster, an experienced fighter from Russia named Andrei Nazarov, who’s a healthy scratch tonight but who’d like nothing more than Boogaard’s spot in the lineup. There’s also a guy on the other side of the ice, a bruiser in a Mighty Ducks sweater, Kip Brennan, who’s chirping at him as he stretches. He can’t hear him over the music, but he knows Brennan well enough to realize he’s picking a fight. Six months ago, Brennan gouged Boogaard’s eye during an American Hockey League fight and the Boogeyman’s been waiting for retribution.

Ten minutes into the first period, Boogaard and Brennan are staring each other down at a faceoff. Brennan gives him a poke with his stick. Boogaard doesn’t reciprocate. Not yet. As the ref leans forward to drop the puck, Brennan slaps his blade at Boogaard’s stick.

The Boogeyman drops his gloves and raises his fists in an NHL game for the first time.

He chases Brennan. Brennan rushes backwards. Boogaard unleashes four rights and two lefts before Brennan can muster a single punch. As Brennan catches his bearings, the two men trade blows until Boogaard delivers a straight left to Brennan’s chin and a sweeping hook with his right. Brennan falls.

Before the period is out, Boogaard drops his gloves again, this time against Todd Fedoruk. Three nights later, Boogaard pummels Rob Davison of the San Jose Sharks and scores his first of only three career goals in the NHL. “A lot of people didn’t think I’d make it,” Boogaard says after the game. “But I always had confidence that if I practised hard enough, I eventually would.”

His father pays a prescient tribute to his son. “He’s encountered a number of injuries with his hands, and he’s going to have repercussions years down the road. But what he’s accomplished to get here, the obstacles and hurdles he’s overcome, I’m proud.”

Within weeks Andrei Nazarov is placed on waivers. And before long, Boogaard’s sweater, the one carrying Probert’s number, becomes a bestseller among fans in Minnesota and beyond.

Icing his fist

He’s trying to take off down the ice but there’s something holding him back. It’s Friday, Oct. 27, 2006. The Anaheim Ducks are back in St. Paul, and Derek Boogaard is rushing toward their zone. He dropped Shane O’Brien with one punch in the first period. Now he just wants to play some hockey. But Todd Fedoruk, the same Todd Fedoruk from 12 months ago, is tugging at his sweater, looking for a rematch.

Tobin Wright, one of Boogaard’s two agents and a friend, is watching from the crowd.

As the play draws to a close, Fedoruk, already gloveless, follows Boogaard into the corner. He shoves the Boogeyman and throws the first punch. It is the only punch Fedoruk will throw in this fight.

Boogaard drops his gloves for the 20th time in an NHL game. Seven seconds later he delivers a right fist that shatters Fedoruk’s cheekbone. Wright’s jaw drops at the sight and sound of the punch. Boogaard has never hit anyone that hard.

After the game, Wright meets his client outside the dressing room. “He was icing his hand,” Wright later recalls. “He was sort of covering it up so other people couldn’t see. He leaned over to me and said, ‘My hand is f—— killing me. I’m worried about that guy.'” He’s right to worry. Fedoruk is about to undergo reconstructive surgery on his face.

His little secret

He’s asleep in his car. He just popped some pills and has no idea where he is. It’s Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009, in Minneapolis, when a police officer pulls up to Derek Boogaard’s black GMC Denali pickup truck on the side of the road.

It’s a critical time in Boogaard’s career. He’s on the cusp of greatness and the brink of disaster. Pundits and players are split over who’s the most feared player in the league. All agree it’s either Boogaard or Montreal’s Georges Laraque, but Laraque is getting old.

Right now though, none of this matters because Boogaard is lost inside his head.

The police officer drives him home and delivers him to his fiancée, who is about to call his family in Saskatchewan and let them in on Derek’s little secret.

Boogaard is in trouble and he needs help because he can’t help himself.

It has been three years since he shattered Fedoruk’s face. Those years have not been kind. Twenty-six fights, one concussion (courtesy of a knock-out loss to Eric Godard), a herniated disc, a broken nose, a damaged shoulder, and too many swollen knuckles to count.

The 2006–07 and 2007–08 seasons were shorter than expected, the result of a recurring back injury. The 2008–09 season ended when his shoulder gave out.

He’s still recovering from recent surgery on his shoulder and nose. He has a prescription for oxycodone, a painkiller, to numb the intense discomfort from those surgeries. He has taken them habitually in the past for chronic back pain, but now he’s hooked. He’s popping countless pills a day and, according to a statement his brother Aaron later gives to the police, he’s not getting them from the doctors anymore.

Now it’s a week into training camp. Ron Salcer, one of his two agents, has concerns. Boogaard called him almost a month ago and said his shoulder was still messed up. Said he needed more time to recover. Said he wasn’t going to camp. Salcer urges him to smarten up or risk throwing away everything.

Ross Bernstein, a local sports writer and one of Boogaard’s friends, is worried too. In an interview, he recalls the night Boogaard called him and said he couldn’t figure out where he was and needed a lift home. At that point, Bernstein doesn’t suspect he is on drugs. No, he thinks Boogaard is dealing with residual side effects from a previous concussion.

His fiancée knows more and, as she reaches out for help, some things are about to become clear to his family and closest friends. Boogaard doesn’t want to admit he’s got a problem. He’s embarrassed. The son of a cop should know better than to get messed up with drugs.

Within 72 hours of being driven home, Boogaard is on a plane bound for rehab in Malibu at the behest of his brother Ryan and his agent Wright. In Malibu, he meets with Dr. David Lewis, one of two doctors running the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Since 1996, Lewis, who works out of a facility in L.A., has been dealing with the league’s most troubled souls, including Probert, who struggled with addiction issues throughout his career. Boogaard checks in. His rehab causes him to miss the first five games of the season. The official record, according to the Wild, shows he is out with a concussion.

Three weeks after checking into the program, he returns to the Wild, and despite the concussions and the escalating pains to his back, head, shoulder and hands, he becomes the Boogeyman again. And aside from the pills he takes to deal with sleepness nights before games, the Boogeyman seems clean.

Falling on his head

He can hear his new teammates screaming at him from the bench. Telling him to move his feet. Shoot the puck. Shoot, Boogey. Shoot. It’s Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, in Madison Square Garden. Derek Boogaard has left the Wild and signed with the Rangers. He’s making $1.65 million a year to police the ice. Probert’s dead. Laraque’s retired. A survey of NHL players later declares Boogaard the most intimidating man in the game. He’s wearing Probert’s crown now, but no longer his number.

No. 94’s season is off to a bad start. He’s back on painkillers, his fiancée has left him, and his coach keeps telling him to lose weight. But right now, he has the puck and there’s nothing standing between him and the Washington Capitals’ goalie.

As he crosses the blueline he winds up and slaps it as hard as he can. The red light glows. The fans rise to their feet. Derek Boogaard has just broken the longest goal-scoring drought—234 games—among active players in the NHL. It is the third and final goal of his career and the highlight of his first year with the Rangers. Tonight he’s a happy man.

He had spent the summer training with Jeremy Clark, his best friend and boxing coach at Minnesota Top Team, a mixed martial arts gym. He lifted weights, pounded punching bags and sparred with Clark and brother Aaron in the gym.

But then he relapsed. According to testimony his brother will later give to a Minneapolis police officer, Derek has been back on drugs since early August 2010. After weeks of working out in preparation for his move to the Rangers, he just showed up one day at their shared residence with “100 oxys.” They fought over his addiction, scrapping on the lawn on Aug. 11, Aaron’s 24th birthday. Derek Boogaard consumed 100 oxys in the next three weeks, then bought 100 more. He left a bottle of pills with Aaron because he couldn’t trust himself with them and then jumped on a plane to New York for training camp.

Nearly a year later, Salcer sits down in a Manhattan café. Still upset over what has become of his friend and client, he says that in hindsight, Boogaard did not seem right from the moment he set foot in New York. He was huffing and puffing through coach John Tortorella’s practices. Salcer says he didn’t know what was wrong but he had his suspicions. “I could see in the fights that things weren’t right. He wasn’t ready for those fights and I was scared for what could happen.” Salcer’s fears proved valid on Dec. 9, 2010, when Carkner broke the Boogeyman’s nose, then dropped him on his head.

Loneliest man in New York

He’s lying on a couch in the dark, unable to move. He has sunglasses on his face and there’s a stack of takeout containers rising higher and higher on the kitchen counter. It’s late December 2010. For three weeks, post-concussion syndrome—brain damage by another name—has kept him captive in his high-rise apartment near the southwest corner of Central Park. When finally he does go outside, sunlight causes headaches, car rides instill vertigo, and exercise brings on both. He’s also addicted to painkillers.

On a January walk through Central Park with Salcer, he stops for what Salcer describes as a meltdown. “What’s going on with me?” Boogaard asks. Salcer isn’t 100 percent sure.

His old friend and future roommate, Devin Wilson, spends nearly all of his free time over the next three months trying to be there for his friend and learns all too well the extent of Boogaard’s current problems. He sees him put his head in his hands and ask for the world to stop moving. He watches him turn out the lights and stare into the darkness with sunglasses on his face. And he witnesses him wash down multiple painkillers with grape juice.

But he doesn’t know how to help. When he tries, Boogaard insists he has things under control and tells his former Prince George teammate not to worry. He says he’s getting over his concussion. He tells him painkillers are only dangerous when mixed with alcohol and he’s too smart to mix.

He wears his Ray-Bans at night and to a Broadway movie theatre where he seeks refuge in the cool and dark.

Sitting in the backseat of a New York taxicab with Wilson, Boogaard says he’s dizzy. “We have to stop,” he tells him. Together they walk more than 60 blocks to his apartment, where he turns out the lights and lies down, his Ray-Bans still on his face.

His boxing coach, his agents and Wilson say a deep-rooted sense of loneliness only added to the pain. Boogaard is a Prairie boy lost in a crowd of 8 million. He could walk those 60 blocks and never be recognized. Away from the game, he ultimately becomes a statistic, one name on an injured list topped by Sidney Crosby, in stories of the NHL’s “concussion crisis.”

In February, Boogaard is finally well enough to get back on an exercise bike. But he is in no condition to play. His coach begins telling reporters that he’ll be gone for the rest of the season. He himself tells them he is feeling better, but admits, “It was scary for awhile.” Later that month, when his friend and teammate, Marian Gaborik, gets a concussion, Boogaard, the man who has made a career out of protecting the Slovak star, helps him through the side effects that come from a rattled mind.

Then, on March 3, as Boogaard continues to struggle, a disturbing revelation emerges from a Boston lab. There, Dr. Ann McKee, a professor in neurology and pathology at the Boston University School of Medicine, has, in dissecting Probert’s brain, discovered he suffered from the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy—permanent brain damage from chronic hits to the head. In the Rangers’ dressing room that day, reporters flock to the injured man who inherited Probert’s crown. Boogaard shrugs. “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” he says.

In the closing weeks of the season, the New York press begins speculating he’ll be dumped. Feeling vulnerable, he longs for a summer of training in Minneapolis where he’ll work out with Clark and his brother Aaron, and then return to New York stronger than ever. That’s the plan.

With three games left in the season, he takes to the ice at the Rangers’ training facilities in Tarrytown, N.Y., in early April 2011. He tries to regain his spot in the lineup. But he’s got drugs in his system and he struggles to stand up. His teammates and the Rangers’ coaching staff look on with disbelief as the Boogeyman trips over his own skates and falls to the ice.

After practice, Wright receives a call from Rangers GM Glen Sather. Sather tells him they’re putting his client on a plane to Malibu immediately. Derek Boogaard is heading back to rehab.

He packs for a short trip and tells his old friend Devin Wilson he’ll be back in a few days.

He will not wake up

Aaron boogaard enters a Minneapolis police station. It’s 12:24 p.m. on Monday, June 20, 2011, when he sits down with Sgt Matthew St. George and proceeds to recount the final days of his brother’s life in testimony and in a five-page, handwritten letter that he leaves with St. George.

In that letter, and in a transcript of the interview only recently made available, Aaron says that Derek went to rehab in April. He writes: “During his time in rehab he had been texting me about how he didn’t belong there and he wasn’t going to his meetings.” He explains that Derek was temporarily released to visit their sister in Kansas. He flew from California to New York to pick up his car and drove to Minneapolis. He arrived at their shared apartment with “around 10–15 oxys, 10 or so 30 mg Percocets and 10 or so more 10 mg Percocets.” He tells police that his brother “was on so much shit” and that he “could never trust himself with ah, a big amount [of pills]. So I would kinda almost be his dispenser…I would hide them around, around the place so he couldn’t find them.”

He tells investigators that after the trip to Kansas, Derek returned to rehab for one more week and that he visited Derek.

Boogaard is released from the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse Program on May 11. Derek and Aaron meet with Salcer and his family for dinner that night at a seaside restaurant in Manhattan Beach, on the outskirts of L.A. Salcer later says Derek seemed in good spirits and recovered from his addictions. As they say their goodbyes, Salcer tells his client he’s proud of him. “You’re doing the right thing,” he says. “You’re on the right track.” Derek and Aaron fly to Minneapolis the next day. Before boarding that flight, Boogaard begins sending texts to friends. Among the texts is a photo of a Bloody Mary. One of several he drinks that morning, he writes.

Derek and Aaron arrive in Minneapolis around 4 p.m. on May 12, and head to their apartment. In his interview with investigators, Aaron says that once home, Derek wants a 30mg Percocet. He later tells Sgt. St. George: “It was almost like he was celebrating something…He just heard that New York wanted him to spend, spend the summer in New York. So he was looking for like, I, I imagine for the next couple of weeks just to be kinda be like a binger.

“I told him that he was being an idiot …I said ‘Dude, you just got out of rehab do you think that’s a good idea?’ And he’s always just been the type to ah just ‘Come on man, you know, like you know like it’s just one, you know?'”

Aaron tells police that after taking one pill, Derek Boogaard leaves with a girl named Ashley and goes to a high-end sushi restaurant named Seven. There they meet with Clark, his wife, Jennie, and a friend named Dillon Hafiz. Around 11 p.m., Boogaard, the Clarks, and Ashley return to the apartment. “Derek was pretty out of it at that point and I could see in his face he was on something,” Aaron, who stayed at the apartment during dinner, recounts in his letter. “Jeremy and Jennie had told me he hadn’t ate and only drank Jack and Cokes.”

He tells St. George the five friends decide to go back out to Sneaky Pete’s (a Minneapolis sports bar where Derek’s bobblehead still has a permanent place behind the bar, between bottles of Glenfiddich and Macallan scotch, and where stripper poles are placed on the dance floor after dark). Derek has more to drink before heading to Augi’s, a neighbouring strip club, then onwards to Bootleggers, another bar, ending at a nightclub called Aqua. There, Aaron tells police, “Derek drunk heavily.”

As the night draws to a close, the five friends pile into Clark’s car. Along the way, Derek gets out and runs under a nearby bridge. Aaron follows after him and there the two brothers talk about “some dark things” before walking the rest of the way. The others continue by car.

When the brothers finally arrive home, Aaron recounts to investigators how “Derek bolted for his bedroom bathroom, Jeremy went with and talked with Derek for around 40 minutes.” Around 3 a.m., Jeremy, Jennie, and Ashley all leave the apartment and Aaron begins making pancakes.

By 3:30 a.m., Derek Boogaard is lying on his bedroom floor. “He would call for me periodically…I’d go in there and we’d talk about just stuff that had gone on in the past, depressing stuff. I’d leave, check on the pancakes. I would come back cuz he’d be calling for me and then finally, I found him sitting at the end of his bed.

“I recommended he lay down. He refused, said he couldn’t.”

Thirty minutes later, according to Aaron’s testimony to police, he goes back into his brother’s room, sees Derek lying in bed. He tells him that there are pancakes waiting for him and that he is heading out. Then he leaves to go visit a girlfriend. When he comes home 12 hours later, he notices the pancakes are uneaten. He pokes his head into Derek’s bedroom and sees that his brother is still in bed. He takes a shower, gets changed and heads to the airport to pick up their brother, Ryan. On his way out of the apartment, he doubles back into Derek’s room and hollers at him to “Sleep it off.” Then he leaves.

Two hours later, around 6 p.m. on May 13, 2011, Aaron and Ryan enter Derek’s room and try to wake him up. Ryan screams to Aaron that Derek is not breathing. Aaron calls 911 and later flushes a number of pills down the toilet. The paramedics arrive at 6:10 p.m. Soon after, Timothy Baskin of the Minneapolis Police Department is in the apartment and, according to his notes, observes that Derek Boogaard is lying on his back in bed with a white foam coming from between his lips.

Three thousand kilometres away, Salcer is on a golf course outside L.A., his cellphone ringing in his pocket. It is Aaron calling from Derek’s bedroom. He can only get two words out. “Derek’s dead!” Aaron screams. “Derek’s dead! Derek’s dead!”

Nine days later, Derek Boogaard’s friends and family gather in a Regina chapel to pay tribute to a man they all refer to as “the gentle giant.” At this point, Boogaard’s brain and spinal cord are already in McKee’s laboratory on the outskirts of Boston.

One month after sitting down with St. George, Aaron Boogaard is charged with the unlawful distribution of a controlled substance and with interfering with the scene of a death.

What he left behind

On a steel table inside the morgue in a Boston area hospital, Boogaard’s brain was sliced into pieces. Half of them were put in a freezer for future study. The rest were soaked in formaldehyde and examined for signs of brain damage.

It’s now Monday, Sept. 19, 2011, and McKee says her research on Boogaard’s brain is ongoing. She says his brain and the others the centre is studying could help doctors better understand chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the concussion crisis in sport.

Four months after Boogaard’s death, a new NHL season is about to begin. Amid the many headlines calling for an end to NHL fighting and a shakeup of the substance abuse program, in the wake of the suicide of the Winnipeg Jets’ Rick Rypien and the death of the Nashville Predators’ recently retired Wade Belak, Todd Fedoruk emerges as the voice of troubled enforcers. He opens up to reporters during his tryouts for the Vancouver Canucks. He talks about how he battled with drugs and alcohol. He says it could have been him who died of an overdose at one time or another. Later, he tells Sportsnet magazine about the time Boogaard shattered his cheek with one punch. He speaks at length about how the two became friends. He draws from his own experiences in “the program” and concludes that, in the end, the program couldn’t save Derek Boogaard because Derek Boogaard wasn’t ready to be saved. “There’s nothing you can really force on somebody,” he says. “[Rehabilitation] is something that comes down to the person dealing with the issue.”

As Fedoruk speaks from Vancouver, Aaron Boogaard, now 25, waits in the same Minneapolis apartment where his brother died for a judge to decide whether or not to proceed with one of the charges against him. He didn’t sell the drugs to his brother, he argues. Someone else did. The judge is expected to make his decision before Aaron’s next court date on Oct. 6.

While all of this plays out, Devin Wilson sits beside an empty chair at a sushi bar in midtown Manhattan and reflects on the loss of his friend. “It hasn’t sunk in,” he says. “And it won’t until opening night when they drop the puck. I’ll remember his generosity and selflessness. He always took one for the team.”

The Boogeyman is still taking one for the team, helping to educate those whose lives and troubles are like his. In a Boston morgue, he is in the company of other athletes whose jobs came at a terrible price. One brain among dozens donated to science, including his hero’s, whose number he wore.