Boeser’s off-season bigger than hockey as father’s recovery continues

Brock Boeser talks with the media about his first day back with the Vancouver Canucks and the health of his father.

VANCOUVER — The five months that Brock Boeser waited for a new contract were nothing compared to the 15 minutes on July 29 when his family waited for Duke Boeser to breathe again. The wait was nothing compared to the days that followed, when Brock was unsure if his dad would live.

Since last season ended, and especially since Boeser’s first contract with the Vancouver Canucks expired on July 1, so much of the discussion about him was framed by his value as a hockey player and how many millions he should be worth to his National Hockey League team.

We all know money isn’t everything. Easy for rich people to say. But honestly, sometimes it doesn’t seem like anything.

By any monetary measure, Boeser — still just 22, albeit an old 22 — is wealthy after settling Monday for a three-year contract from the Canucks that is worth $17.6 million.

But the hardest thing about taking all that money was saying goodbye on Tuesday to Duke, who is out of the intensive care unit in Minnesota but a long way from fully recovered.

“He and his dad are very close,” Laurie Boeser said over the phone from Burnsville, Minn., where Brock grew up and Duke, 58, collapsed seven weeks ago. “I know Brock put on this brave face saying goodbye to his dad, but I know he’s a sensitive guy and this wasn’t easy.

“Yes, Brock has experienced things, but he’s very young yet. Even though you take it in and you appear to be handling it, it takes an emotional toll. And I do get really concerned and talk to him, and just try to make him understand that it’s a big world and a lot of people go through difficulty and hardships. But they also have wonderful experiences. Our kids have had to endure more than I would have hoped at their ages.”

Boeser wears No. 6 because it was his dad’s number. Duke was stricken with Parkinson’s disease in 2010, then suffered a brain injury in a car accident two years later.

Laurie worked two jobs — three during tax-return season — to raise Brock and his sister, Jessica, who have an older sibling, Paul.

That’s why when Brock, the 23rd pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, made his Canucks debut 2 1/2 years ago straight out of the University of North Dakota, former Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins invited Duke and Laurie into the dressing room in St. Paul, Minn., to read the starting lineup to the players.

“A bigger-than-hockey moment,” Desjardins described it back then.

Man, there have been more of those since.

In 2017, Duke was diagnosed with lung cancer, which was beaten into remission until this past June, when it returned and was found on his liver and in his chest.

A little over a month later, Duke collapsed. His heart stopped. Laurie helped perform CPR until paramedics arrived. Brock was on the golf course with his friends when Jessica called him.

Brock said Wednesday after his first Canucks practice that on the drive to the hospital “those thoughts were there” — that he might have lost his father.

“You think things can’t get worse and then something worse happens to the guy,” Brock told reporters. “It’s amazing what he’s gone through and what he’s overcome. Obviously, we still take it a day at a time, but this would be one helluva thing to overcome.

“He’s getting to the point they’re going to move him to another transitional care place. I think it’s just taking it a step at a time. It’s all good steps. I keep mentioning a day at a time because that’s what I’ve been doing the past two months.”

Missing training camp in Victoria last weekend at least allowed Brock to be with his dad when Duke’s breathing tube was removed and he began to actually eat food again. He was with his dad when Duke was taken outside, into the late-summer sunshine, for the first time since his cardiac arrest.

Laurie took him to the park again on Wednesday while Brock practised with the Canucks at Rogers Arena, where he skated with Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller. Laurie showed Duke a video the team posted of Horvat greeting Boeser in the dressing room.

She spends mornings at work — “to kind of get her mind off things,” Brock said — and afternoons with her husband at a rehabilitation facility. Duke’s cancer treatments are ongoing.

Brock Boeser walks onto the ice before a game against the Devils. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

“This morning, he was telling (the staff) very clearly that Brock plays pro hockey, that he was drafted and he has a new contract,” Laurie said. “But as the day goes on and he’s fatigued, he asks: ‘When is Brock coming, where is Brock right now?’ This is all (part of the recovery) process. I just kept reminding him, here’s where Brock is and I show him pictures on my phone.”

When he was first asked about his dad during Wednesday’s press scrum, Brock stopped to control his emotions.

“Sorry,” he said. “Um… even just spending that extra week… he just started eating this past week. He became really alert. He still has some delirium and hallucinations, but it meant a lot to be there.

“That’s what kind of kept me sane through this whole process, just being able to go see him each and every day and be there to support him. Seeing him these last couple of days, it really kind of let me relax a bit to see how well he’s doing and how well he’s coming along.”

Brock describes his dad as a “fighter.” So is the son who has endured a lot, including the death of a close high-school friend in a car accident Brock avoided only because he was playing for Team USA in Europe the summer before his draft.

Boeser said he is grateful for the outpouring of support and prayers this summer from friends, teammates and fans. He also said the Canucks organization, despite the difficultly of negotiations, always supported him. Contract talks were put on hold as Duke spent three weeks in intensive care.

He has no hard feelings towards the Canucks and said he’ll try again to get a long-term contract in Vancouver when his bridge deal ends in 2022.

“My plan isn’t just to play three years and get out of here,” he said. “My plan is to play here as long as I can. I love the city, I love the fans, I love the organization. So just take it year by year, and hopefully I can sign a longer one after this.”

He also declared that Duke will see him play again.

“I know how thankful Brock is that he got to buy a home and he has his toys at the lake,” Laurie Boeser said. “To have the experiences (in hockey) he has had, he’s so grateful for. But he values people so much. I think he grasps that life and the values to a person are so important. Yes, money’s nice. But life and love and having connections with people, the money can’t ever replace that.”

Laurie said she’ll drive Duke to a game if they can’t fly to Vancouver.

“It’s going to be a slow road due to his other health compromises, with Parkinson’s and the active cancer,” she said. “But we’re very encouraged with the progress he’s made in 6 1/2 weeks. It has absolutely, really astounded us that’s he’s doing as well as he is. I think that will continue. And he’s mentioning watching hockey games again.”

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