R.I.P Derek Boogaard, 28: Feared Enforcer on the Ice, Soft-Spoken off It

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Derek Boogaard, the ungainly 6-foot-7 hockey enforcer who went from the Aeros to the NHL's Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers, has died at the age of 28.

He was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment on Friday. No cause of death has been determined, but police have said they found no evidence of a struggle or foul play. (The New York Post is reporting that Boogaard had been taking part in the NHL's substance-abuse counseling program, although it's obviously not known if drugs or alcohol played any role in the death.)

We profiled Boogaard in 2004, pairing him in a cover story with an Aeros winger who played college hockey at Harvard.

In talking to him for "Harvard & the Boogeyman," we found the same conundrum that other reporters had: On the ice Boogaard was a fierce fighter, always ready to drop the gloves and take on the other team's most vicious enforcer; off the ice he was shy, soft-spoken and simply said he knew that being a fighter was the only way he would make it in hockey.

We wrote of a Western Hockey League on-ice incident that resulted in a suspension and a meeting with a WHL executive.

"I didn't know what to do, dealing with guys like that," [Boogaard] says. "He's a little guy and he used to play hockey, but not in my position where you have to fight. Either he'd been too scared or too small to fight. Guys like that don't get it, and it's hard talking to them."

People have never understood. And Boogaard doesn't like to do a lot of explaining, either. He's disconcertingly mellow off the ice, and his most eloquent defense of his play seldom goes beyond a shrug of the shoulders and an acceptance that outsiders will never understand.

Growing up, he says, "Parents would complain to the coaches about me: 'All he does is just take penalties,' they'd say. I would always be physical even if it wasn't fighting guys."

When he went to the Minnesota Wild, our sister paper, City Pages, did its own profile.

The Wild beat writer for the Minnesota Star-Tribune offers his thoughts here.

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