ST. PAUL, Minn. – You wouldn’t know it Saturday from the commotion inside Laurie Boeser’s family room, but the Vancouver Canucks’ 6-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres was not the big game they’ve all been waiting for.
Sure, her son scored twice, was named the game’s first star and the Canucks won. But the really big game, the one they’ll remember the rest of their lives, is here Sunday when Brock Boeser’s large, boisterous cheering section will include his dad, Duke, who nearly died last summer and continues to struggle against a daunting mass of medical challenges.
Duke Boeser hasn’t attended a game since he suffered a massive heart attack last July 29 when he collapsed in the family home in nearby Burnsville, Minn. His heart stopped for 15 minutes while Laurie and a flooring contractor, who happened to be at the house, performed CPR until paramedics arrived. It stopped again after Duke was taken to hospital.
Already suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a brain injury sustained in a 2012 car accident and the return of cancer that first appeared in his lungs in 2017, the 58-year-old spent three weeks in intensive care and 2 1/2 months in hospital before he was able to go home.
From the September day Brock peeled himself away from his father to return to Vancouver and the National Hockey League, the 22-year-old winger has been waiting for Jan. 12, hoping and praying his dad would be well enough to come see him play against the Minnesota Wild.
“He was never a crazy parent or anything, he was just a quiet dad who watched the games,” Brock said this week. “I just remember growing up, I’d sit on his lap on the recliner in the family room and we’d watch the Wild play, or college hockey or whatever. He’d come outdoor skating with us. After the Parkinson’s came, he had to stop skating. But those are some of the memories I have of him as a child.
“When something tragic like this happens, you really live in the moment. You look around and look at life and realize what’s really important. My dad’s gone through so much, but this last thing really shook us.”
Laurie Boeser, who still works one of the two jobs she needed to support her family after Duke was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010, records most Canucks games so her husband can watch them the next morning when she is away.
The Boesers hired a caregiver to look after Duke when Laurie is at work Monday to Friday. When the time zones allow – such as Saturday’s matinee game in Buffalo – Brock’s dad still likes to watch his son’s games live on television.
Laurie and Duke were joined in their family room Saturday by neighbours, including a boyhood friend of Brock, and were looking forward to having dinner with their son that night after the Canucks’ charter arrived in the Twin Cities.
How did Duke react to Brock’s third-period winning goal?
“I’m the one screaming, and he gets a kick out of listening to me screaming and clapping and jumping up and down,” Laurie laughed. “So part of it is he’s more amused with me. And then I refresh him, like ‘Hey, that’s Brock’s 16th goal. Let’s look at the replay.’ I really want to make sure he sees it.
“It’s kind of the cognitive part, he’s not back to where he was. And he can have some mood changes that we didn’t see before. It seems to be aligned with fatigue, we’re figuring out, where he can become agitated. He didn’t have that personality before. Sometimes it’s hit and miss depending on the day. Some days he’s sharp, and sometimes he’s a little more scrambled. We’re just thankful he’s with us.”
Duke takes cancer medication daily to try to prevent the disease from spreading. Further scans are planned for next week.
Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom’s agonizing loss of his father to cancer this fall was felt keenly by Boeser.
“We’ve had a few conversations,” Brock said. “It’s really hard stuff, stuff you never want to happen to someone. My heart was with Marky that whole situation and still is today. It’s never easy. It did hit close to home.
“It’s a lot on my mom’s plate. I know it’s not easy. Being away for a long time, and not being able to see my dad and help, it makes it difficult being away. But we’re really lucky with the support we have. We have a lot of friends and family who help out.”
There have been so many medical challenges that Laurie describes a serious gallbladder infection, which required Duke to undergo surgery to remove it last fall, as a “bump on the road.”
“I know there are families, people in this world who have gone through the same trials and tribulations we have,” she said. “I know that, for sure.”
When Brock made it home for Christmas, it was the first time the family was together since he left more than three months earlier for Canucks training camp.
“We hear from Brock frequently, very often,” Laurie said. “I think initially, he was trying to put his feet firmly on the ground as a grown up and everything. Now, I think he realizes that value of family. And it’s not like he didn’t before, but now he communicates with us a lot. Almost every day we’re texting or FaceTiming or talking in some capacity.
“I did have a private talk with his sister and he when he was home at Christmas to just try to acknowledge where we’re at. At some point, hard decisions might come along. What kind of support system do they need? We’re embracing today, but we don’t know where we’re going.”
Except on Sunday, they all know where they’re going. The Canucks play the Wild at 3 p.m. local time, 1 p.m. in Vancouver, at the Xcel Energy Center.
“Duke’s been asking numerous times today: ‘Don’t we have to go? Don’t we have to go?’ So he’s obviously excited about it,” Laurie Boeser said. “We can’t wait, honestly. Brock’s agents told me when he first signed with the Canucks, that everyone will be excited the first couple of times he comes here (to play in Minnesota) and then it will kind of slack off. Well, it hasn’t.”
She estimates there will be 70 or 80 people to see Brock and share the afternoon with Duke.
“My mom usually helps get tickets but she said everyone needed to get their own tickets this year because she has so much on her plate,” Brock said. “It means a lot. Everything was unknown in the summer. If my mom and this other guy weren’t there when it happened, my dad might not be here today. I’m very thankful and lucky that he’s still here and can come to the game and get to see me play again.”
Between the Canucks’ two losses this week in Florida, Boeser was demoted in practice by coach Travis Green. Naturally, reporters asked the winger about getting moved off the top forward line and first power play.
Later, Boeser smiled at the thought of the questions.
“I’m not saying hockey’s not important, it is important,” he explained. “I want to win and I want to make the playoffs, and the game has already given me so much. But life … there’s so much more after hockey. Family is more important than hockey. I understand there is more to life than just the game.”