Boesers mourn the loss of father Duke: 'Family is more important than hockey'

Laurie and Duke Boeser. (Photo from Iain Macintyre, 2020)

On the day Brock Boeser’s National Hockey League career began in 2017, Duke Boeser was in the Vancouver Canucks’ dressing room to read the lineup card as his son tried not to cry in front of new teammates.

On the day Duke’s life ended, May 27, 2022, Brock was with him again.

Twelve years after the arrival of Parkinson’s Disease was just the initial attack by a relentless wave of challenges that would include a brain injury suffered in a car accident, cancer, a heart attack and dementia, Duke Boeser’s battle for life ended at home in Burnsville, Minn.

He was 61 years old. Brock is 25, still far too young to be losing his father.

Swamped by emotion after spending most of the 2021-22 season far from his dad, unable to help care for him or support in person his remarkable mother, Laurie, Brock managed only a few words when asked about Duke during the Canucks’ year-end media availability at Rogers Arena on May 1.

“He’s not doing well,” Boeser said. “He has pretty bad dementia right now. It’s onset and it has gotten pretty bad this year. And it’s really hit me hard.”

This was the heart-puncturing burden Brock carried with him through a difficult season.

He confided in a couple of reporters who closely cover the team that his dad’s deteriorating health was frequently on his mind. Of course, it would be. But he did not want to speak about it publicly while the Canucks were still playing games.

Since Brock’s draft day in 2015, he and Laurie Boeser were open about the challenges Duke and the family faced.

Laurie, who worked two jobs and occasionally three to raise Brock and his sister Jessica – they have an older sibling, Paul – when Duke became unable to work, wanted other families who might be struggling to find strength and hope and believe they, too, could endure and triumph.

That’s what Boeser’s NHL career has been: a triumph for his family.

Thirteen years old when his dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Brock said he was shaped by the challenges he experienced. When he was 17, a year before the Canucks selected him 23rd overall from the United States Hockey League, Boeser lost a close friend, Ty Alyea, in a car accident in Minnesota. Brock was away playing for the U.S. Under-18 team in Europe. Another close friend, Cole Borchardt, suffered permanent injuries in the accident.

Had he been home, Boeser figures he would have been in the Jeep with his friends when it rolled over during a summer outing to the lake.

“I’m not going to lie; it has been a challenge,” Laurie Boeser told us in 2017 after Brock scored in his NHL debut – in Minnesota against the Wild. “But you know, you just do what you have to do for your family.

“Brock has had some life scenarios where he had to be older than I wanted him to be. He had a maturity about him, anyway, but then had to endure some of those things at a pretty young age. When you have experiences like that, you can’t help but grow as you deal with them.”

On Aug. 6, 2020, in the only hockey game he is ever likely to play on the anniversary of his buddy’s death, Brock scored for the Canucks in a playoff victory in the Edmonton bubble. Naturally, against Minnesota.

“I’m not saying hockey’s not important, it is important,” Boeser told Sportsnet earlier that year. “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.”

About Duke, Brock said: “He was never a crazy parent or anything, he was just a quiet dad who watched the games. 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.”

Those are the memories that Brock will carry the rest of his life, that will need to sustain him. Anyone who saw his press conference four weeks ago could see Boeser’s anguish over his dying father. And remembering that, it is impossible now not to feel his loss and know his grief.

Thank God, he had these days in May to be with his father and his family, to just be a son, not a hockey player, and share the burden of Duke’s final weeks. To say goodbye to a man who gave his wife and kids and the people who loved him a decade longer than he might have.

Knowing the Boesers’ story, and how it represented the sacrifices so many families make to raise their children, it was former Canucks coach Willie Desjardins who invited Duke and Laurie Boeser to read the lineup card before Brock’s first NHL game on March 25, 2017.

Desjardins called it a “bigger-than-hockey moment.” There have been far too many of those for Brock.

“And starting on right wing,” Duke Boeser said that day in the dressing room, “I can’t believe it, Brock Boeser.”

And then everyone cheered. As they should.

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