Boogaard’s ca­reer as an en­forcer scarred by sub­stance abuse

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Randy Turner

BOY on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard sets out in­no­cently enough. It opens, nat­u­rally, on the mi­nor hockey rinks of ru­ral Saskatchewan, the spawn­ing ground of count­less boy­hood hockey dreams, in­clud­ing a five-year-old Derek Boogaard, a tall and chubby-cheeked kid in the win­ter of 1987. It ends with Boogaard dead of a lethal com­bi­na­tion of al­co­hol and pre­scrip­tion painkillers in May 2001, at age 28. The meat of this story is the in-be­tween; the ul­ti­mately ill-fated jour­ney of Boogaard, who — as doc­u­mented by Pulitzer Prize-win­ning jour­nal­ist John Branch — would fall through ev­ery crack in pro­fes­sional hockey’s sup­posed string of safety nets. This book is not a de­light to read, nor was that the in­tent. It’s the story of a down­ward spi­ral that sheds valu­able light on the vi­o­lent un­der­belly of the NHL. In fact, you could call Boogaard a poster boy for the gath­er­ing move­ment to rid hockey of fight­ing — ex­cept, sadly, he’s rather one of the more re­cent ca­su­al­ties of a sys­tem that, as the New York Times writer re­veals, is ei­ther in­ca­pable or un­will­ing to con­front the dark byprod­ucts of nur­tur­ing and em­ploy­ing grown men to, at the drop of a puck, punch op­pos­ing play­ers, most of­ten other “en­forcers,” in the face. After all, the list al­ready in­cludes the likes of NHL prize-fight­ers Bob Probert and John Kordic (just to name two) whose strug­gles with ad­dic­tion ended in pre­ma­ture death. Probert’s story was also told in book form, en­ti­tled Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge. Probert, who had 10 stints in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion dur­ing his ca­reer, was widely con­sid­ered one of the most feared en­forcers in NHL his­tory. He died of a heart at­tack at age 46. The role of the en­forcer, or goon, is also de­tailed by Branch, whose book is clearly meant for a larger au­di­ence than would typ­i­cally con­sume the stan­dard NHL star bio that would flit from one grand ac­com­plish­ment to another. Most Cana­dian hockey fans would take such back­ground for granted. But it’s im­por­tant to un­der­score that the first re­port of an in­door hockey game, recorded in 1875, ended with a fight. Boogaard’s story is not easy to pi­geon­hole. Yes, it’s about the role of fight­ing in hockey for a six-footeight, 258-pound man who scored just three goals in 227 games, and fought 61 times. But it’s also about ad­dic­tion and the ten­u­ous and cut­throat na­ture of his cho­sen pro­fes­sion. At the very least, the reader will learn a lit­tle about the laun­dry list of pre­scrip­tion drugs Boogaard took — cy­cloben­za­prine (a mus­cle re­laxer), tra­madol and tra­zodone (anti-de­pres­sants), Resto­ril (a seda­tive), zolpi­dem (also known as Am­bien), oxy­mor­phone, hy­drocodone and oxy­con­tin (opi­oids). Boogaard, whose oc­cu­pa­tion con­sisted of de­liv­er­ing and re­ceiv­ing vi­cious punches to the head, was on a con­stant diet of pills dur­ing his NHL ca­reer, which spanned six sea­sons with the Min­nesota Wild and New York Rangers. The ex­haus­tive de­tails are con­tained in the book, but con­sider that even after Boogaard was ad­mit­ted to the league’s sub­stance abuse pro­gram, even after test­ing pos­i­tive in the majority of at least 20 drug tests, the player re­ceived at least 12 pre­scrip­tions for 274 Am­bien pills from team doc­tors for both the Wild and Rangers, plus an ad­di­tional 64 pills for hy­drocodone or Vi­codin. And that’s not in­clud­ing the co­pi­ous amounts of pills (im­pos­si­ble to doc­u­ment) that Boogaard bought from deal­ers on the street. In­deed, some of the key com­po­nents of the book are the cell­phone and bank­ing records, med­i­cal re­ports and pre­scrip­tion records from phar­ma­cies un­cov­ered by Boogaard’s fa­ther, Len, a for­mer RCMP of­fi­cer. Also in­valu­able are the 16 pages of hand­writ­ten notes found in Boogaard’s apart­ment after his death, which are brief glimpses into his for­ma­tive years in ju­nior hockey in the hard­scrab­ble WHL. How­ever, less con­clu­sive is the role of Boogaard’s count­less on-ice bat­tles in his death. Boogaard’s brain, which weighed 1,580 grams, was sub­se­quently stud­ied by ex­perts who found pro­gres­sive brain dam­age, which is com­monly known as CTE. The pathol­ogy was ul­ti­mately deemed in­con­clu­sive be­cause the symp­toms oc­curred dur­ing the same time Boogaard was ex­hibit­ing nar­cotic abuse. Re­gard­less, Boogaard’s story and his pre­ma­ture demise only cast a greater shadow on hockey’s pugilis­tic el­e­ment. The de­bate will prob­a­bly will not soon end. Nei­ther will sto­ries of the likes of Boogaard and Probert and Kordic. When he died, Boogaard’s au­topsy re­vealed the toxic lev­els of al­co­hol and painkillers for over­dose vic­tims. And another thing. The heavy scars on his hands.


Even after test­ing pos­i­tive in mul­ti­ple drug tests, Derek Boogaard was able to re­ceive nu­mer­ous pre­scrip­tions for painkillers from team doc­tors.


Boogaard’s fam­ily leaves a chapel in Regina

after his fu­neral in May 2011.

BoBoy on IIce: ThThe Life and nd Death of Derek Boogaard

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