REGINA - New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard was known as a fierce fighter on the ice, but the hundreds who gathered for his funeral Saturday remembered a gentle giant.
Rain fell as family, friends and hockey players filed into a chapel at the RCMP training academy to pay tribute to Boogaard, who was found dead May 13 at his home in Minneapolis.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said Boogaard's death was an accident, due to a toxic mix of alcohol and the powerful pain killer oxycodone.
Boogaard's longtime friend, Jeremy Clark, told mourners that the 28-year-old was many things to many people.
"For some of you, he was the protector. For others, he was the big goof with that infectious grin ready to victimize you with a prank or a trick word," said Clark.
"Some saw the quiet giant, the thoughtful friend. Others saw the gracious guy that was ready to pick up the tab for complete strangers at a restaurant. I think for all of those we can agree—he was a giant with a giant heart who leaves behind a giant hole."
Boogaard, a towering six foot seven, was known as "The Boogeyman," and one of the NHL's most feared fighters.
Boogaard was drafted by Minnesota in 2001 in the seventh round, No. 202 overall, and went on to play in 255 games with the Wild from 2005-10. He missed four games with the Wild because of a concussion.
He agreed to a US$6.5-million, four-year deal with the Rangers in July and appeared in 22 games last season, finishing with a goal, an assist and 45 penalty minutes.
Boogaard's final game was Dec. 9 at Ottawa when he fought Matt Carkner and sustained a concussion and shoulder injury—it was the 70th fight of his NHL career.
Clark said Boogaard's "love for life and fun overtook the size of his fists."
"I'd never met someone who got more excitement and pleasure out of the simple things in life than Derek," said Clark.
Rangers teammate Sean Avery and the team's president and GM Glen Sather were among those who turned out to honour Boogaard, along with Minnesota Wild defenceman Brent Burns, retired winger Brendan Shanahan, and Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers.
Boogaard was born in Saskatoon and found his passion for hockey at the age of four.
Rangers scout Doug Risebrough, who was also Boogaard's GM in Minnesota, remembered Boogaard as a dedicated player, one who was working hard to improve himself.
"Boogy became a fan favourite, not only because of his physical play, his hits, his fights," said Risebrough. "He was working hard. The fans could see the improvement and everyone was cheering for him.
"They also knew about his charity work. They also felt the benefit of the work that he did for the Rangers, the Wild and later on his own charities with military families."
Risebrough recalled a charity ball hockey game when Boogaard played with young children half his size.
"Derek had a way of attracting people. He had a way of comforting people. A big man with a soft heart," said Risebrough. "On the ice, players were trying to get away from him. Off the ice, the people were trying to be around him."
Wild fans held a memorial service for Boogaard last Sunday at the Xcel Energy Center, where friends and former teammates remembered Boogaard as a rough-and-tumble guy on the rink, but his good-natured demeanour off the ice. He was noted for his community work and charitable visits to Children's Hospital in St. Paul.
Burns, who was Boogaard's roommate in Minnesota, said Boogaard meant a lot to each team he played with.
"I know I can speak for all the players that he's touched in his career, some with more force than others," said Burns.
"He's persevered through a lot, especially hockey, being told he wasn't good enough his whole life. (He) worked hard every day and eventually become one of the most feared enforcers and best protectors of his teammates in the NHL."
Burns said he had great experiences and a lot of laughs with the Boogyman.
"His compassion is second to none. All the charity things, his work with the military—everyone loved Boogs. Everyone loved Boogs because of his protection and entertainment on the ice and everyone wanted to see the Boogyman off the ice."