After challenges on and off ice, Canucks’ Boeser has ‘a lot to prove’

Vancouver Canucks' Brock Boeser lines up for a faceoff against the Montreal Canadiens during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

VANCOUVER – Things became so difficult emotionally for Brock Boeser last spring, when he was trying to play for the Vancouver Canucks while his dad was slipping away back home in Minnesota, that the winger actually felt some mental relief when he injured his elbow in April.

“It’s crazy to say out loud,” Boeser said Saturday in a phone call from Wisconsin, where he was visiting his grandmother. “There were times where I was just mentally exhausted and mentally drained, and I felt that a lot. Just all the stress. It sounds really messed up but when I did get injured again, I’m not going to lie, it was almost (relief) because I was so mentally tired. I think it really affected me.”

Duke Boeser died on May 27, 12 years after the arrival of Parkinson’s Disease started an unyielding wave of serious health challenges that, at the end, included cancer and dementia. Duke was 61. Brock is 25.

He spent last season worrying about his dad, wishing he could be with him and his mom, Laurie, wondering what more he could do while still fulfilling his duty to the Canucks. Boeser was a ghost some nights, but still managed 23 goals among his 46 points over 71 games.

He lived with so much fear and uncertainty that when the chance came Friday to find solid ground he embraced the idea of a three-year contract extension with the Canucks – another bridge deal that will delay again his chance to get a long-term contract in the National Hockey League.

His interview Saturday with Sportsnet was Boeser’s first since he broke down at the Canucks’ year-end press conference on May 1 when he was asked about his dad. Boeser left the media room that day and went home to Burnsville, Minn., to be with Duke in his final weeks.

“It was just a tough scenario all around,” Boeser said. “I wish I could have been so much better (last season). You never know, if I score five or six more goals maybe we’re in the playoffs. I think about things like that and it eats at me for sure.

“I’m moving forward and taking things a day at a time but . . . after everything, these last two weeks, I’ve been really thinking about hockey, shifting my focus to that. I’ve been sitting here thinking: I can’t wait for the season to start. Now that this deal is done, I’m just so excited. And like I said, I know I have a lot to prove. It’s going to be a different year for me mentally and that’s exciting.”

Boeser said he can trace his emotional state last season by the Canucks’ scoresheets. When he went home for the Christmas break, Boeser said he saw how much Duke had declined. In September, when Brock left for Canucks training camp, Duke could walk. By January, he couldn’t, Brock said.

After scoring five times in six games after Bruce Boudreau replaced Travis Green as coach in December, Boeser scored once in eight games after the Christmas break. When he finally injured his elbow in an April 3 game against the Vegas Golden Knights, Boeser hadn’t registered a point in four games and had scored only four goals in 20.

Able to “re-group mentally” during his five-game injury absence, Boeser finished the season with four goals and eight points in Vancouver’s final seven games.

Boeser’s poorest NHL season came during a platform year, as his first bridge deal expired, leaving the Canucks facing a steep $7.5-million qualifying offer to retain rights to the restricted free agent. The three-year, $19.95-million-US contract the Canucks announced on Canada Day was a compromise for both sides.

“I’m really happy,” Boeser said. “We all knew the (arbitration) deadline was today; I don’t think any of us really wanted to go down that route, especially after everything that has happened. They really believe in me and I feel that strongly. Just the whole three-year thing, I think it’s a good opportunity for me after everything that’s happened to just look ahead and really get to focus on hockey here and just show everyone what I can do and know I can do.

“Looking back at this year, I still had 23 goals with the heaviest weight on my shoulders. Just to not have that weight . . . I mean, there’s still something there but it’s a little different now. I know I have a lot to prove, and I think I’m really driven to show everyone what I can do.”

Boeser said his mom is spending more time with him at his house in nearby Prior Lake, and the family plans to sell the old home in Burnsville.

“I’ve been there a couple times and it’s pretty weird,” Brock said. “It’s really quiet. So I think maybe just selling it and starting fresh with a new, smaller place . . . we’ll figure it out. One day at a time, but it’s slowly starting to get a little bit better.”

Boeser said he received incredible support before and after his father’s passing, not just from teammates and friends but Canucks fans and others around the NHL.

“It’s been overwhelming ever since my breakdown with the media,” he said. “I’ve gotten so many messages . . . people reaching out. There’s so many people out there saying they totally understand what we’re going through; they have a relative or a father or mother that has dementia.

“It was overwhelming with all the support from all the Canucks fans throughout the whole time. And even the last couple years, everyone has really had my back through it all. They’ve been so supportive of my dad. In his last couple days, I was telling my dad in his ear how much support he’s got and how everyone was thinking of him and sending him texts and stuff. I know he definitely heard. It always meant a lot to him and our whole family.”

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