May 16, 2011, 12:36 AM EST
When Minnesota Wild fans Shelby Leske and Katie Haag created a Facebook group to organize an informal memorial service in memory of Derek Boogaard for Sunday night, it’s unlikely that they expected a turnout like the one that took place at the Xcel Energy Center. The event drew 350 Wild fans along with many of Boogaard’s closest family members and teammates, according to Michael Russo.
While the event was informal, the Wild organization embraced the opportunity to celebrate the life of the popular enforcer. Bryan Reynolds of the SBNation Wild blog Hockey Wilderness points out that popular former Wild player Wes Walz and current GM Chuck Fletcher made heartfelt speeches during the event, along with comments from Boogaard’s family members.
As you can see from one of the photos provided below, the memorial display included microphones for the various speakers, a big No. 24 Boogaard jersey, a large picture of the enforcer and a table full of flowers, some candles and other mementos left behind by fans.
Russo captured the emotional scene in this story, with reactions from his family, including his parents Len and Joanne Boogaard.
Len and Joanne Boogaard were joined by Derek’s brothers, Ryan and Aaron, sister, Krysten, half-brother, Curtis, a slew of other family and friends, former Wild teammates Brent Burns, Andrew Brunette, Niklas Backstrom, Nick Schultz, Stephane Veilleux, Wes Walz and the entire Wild training staff.
“I just look at the fans and can’t believe it,” Len Boogaard said.
The memorial was funny at times, especially when Walz spoke about how nobody wanted to skate against the 6-8 behemoth in early-year scrimmages. At times, it was heart-warming, especially when Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher talked about his memories of Boogaard and Burns wrestling on the ice and how compassionate Boogaard was with children and charities.
And at times it was downright tear-inducing, especially when his family courageously spoke.
Reynolds did a great job of describing the speech by Walz, which occasionally provided some lighter moments on a sad night for family, friends and fans.
Wes Walz was next, and called Boogaard “a true gentleman.” Walz went on, saying Boogaard was “soft spoken, kind hearted, and a gentle giant.” He offered a welcome moment of levity, telling of Boogaard’s first training camp with the Wild. “He was 21 years old, and there’s this guy skating around who is 6-8, 270 lbs, and a lot of us did not want to be on the ice with him. Guys were changing quicker, taking 15 second shifts and getting off the ice.”
Walz explained that Boogaard worked hard on his game, both in Houston, and during the summer, that he constantly worked on his skating, balance, and conditioning, so if “fights went 45 seconds or a minute, he would always have the upper hand,” stating that Boogaard knew his role, and what kept him in the league.
Talking about Boogaard’s fighting abilities, Walz said that there was a “stretch five or six years ago, [the team] had seen nothing like it, we saw him knock about eight or nine guys out in a row. Usually you see one or two a year, but guys were dropping left and right.” He added, “We loved having him on our bench. We were a small, quick team. We needed Derek in that lineup. I can tell you a lot guys on our bench grew an inch or two and were a lot braver when Derek was on the bench, which made our team better.”
It must have been a heart-wrenching scene, but it’s also an impressive showing of support for a player who meant a lot to a franchise and fan base. Again, everyone involved deserves a tremendous amount of admiration for handling a very sad situation with such class.
Here are some photos from the event. First, here are a couple from Reynolds:
Here are some additional photos from Jim Mone of The Associated Press (also responsible for this post’s main image):
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