BOSTON --- New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard was remembered less as a bruising enforcer and more for his less-fierce, kind demeanor off the ice by some of his former teammates.
“He’s not at all what people would think from watching him play hockey,” said Tampa Bay forward Dominic Moore, who played two seasons with Boogaard when they were teammates on the Minnesota Wild. “I always thought he was a real gentleman. He was a thoughtful, smart guy and a good person.”
Boogaard, 28, was found dead by family members on Friday, although the cause of death was not immediately determined. An official with the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office told CBSSports.com that the results of the autopsy conducted Saturday will not be released for a couple weeks as toxicology and other lab tests are conducted.
A moment of silence was observed before the start of the opener at TD Garden, although a few fans yelled out "Boo" in recognition of the late player's nickname.
News spread among Boogaard’s current and former teammates via text message hours before the story was reported late Friday night.
“I was waiting (for the reports) to come out,” said Boston Bruins forward Shane Hnidy, who also played with Boogaard in Minnesota. “Eventually, they did. It’s a terrible loss. He’s still a young man.”
Boogaard, a 6-foot-7 bruiser known more for is fists than his scoring, was described as a gentle person off the ice. The last time Hnidy talked to him, Boogaard had just signed a four-year, $6.5 million deal with the New York Rangers last offseason.
Boogaard, however, missed the second half of the season after a concussion. He had suffered at least two other concussions during his NHL career, which began in Minnesota in 2005-06.
“You just see him as this big, tough guy,” Hnidy said. “He’s a great guy. He’s always having fun. I’m going to remember him more for (what happened) behind the scenes. He was a guy who gave back to the community. Where things went from there, I’m not sure.”
Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, who played with the Wild during Boogaard's rookie season, recalled Boogaard work ethic as well.
“He was an awesome guy in the room,” Roloson said (via WEEI-AM). “I remember when he first broke in, every day he came in to work hard, and he wanted to get better. He wanted to make it to the NHL and prove every person out there that said he couldn’t make it wrong. He worked hard every every day on and off the ice. He was one of those guys that was the first on and last off, had that type of attitude to get better, and obviously he succeeded.”
Earlier Saturday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released the following statement:
“The news that we have lost someone so young and so strong leaves everyone in the National Hockey League stunned and saddened. The NHL family sends its deepest condolences to all who knew and loved Derek Boogaard, to those who played and worked with him and to everyone who enjoyed watching him compete."
UPDATE: Here's some reaction from some of his Rangers teammates via a statement from the club:
“I found out immediately, like right away...it was late at night here...I couldn't believe it. It was weird because I just couldn't believe it. It's really sad, a young guy like that.”
“It was devastating news. I played with Boogey for a long time in Minny and then in New York. He was a great guy. We got along together great. We helped each other out on the ice and off the ice. We were very close. I tried to help him along in New York, and we had a very good relationship. It's just very sad.”
“He was one of the very best at what he did. Every team would have loved to have him, whether on the ice or off the ice as a great teammate.”
“He was a year younger than me, and you could see that he improved so much. But he always was such a calm guy, got along with everybody. We had a lot of good times together. He was a really easy going guy, really caring. We talked pretty much about everything. He's just the type guy who would be there for you whenever you needed him”
“We spoke before the World Championships. We were in touch a lot. He was focusing on coming back, training every day. He was really looking forward to coming back in great shape and prove that he's the best at what he does. He was really looking forward to that. He was always so positive and optimistic. “
New York Rangers Captain Chris Drury:
"On behalf of all Derek's teammates, I would like to say that he was a great friend and a great teammate and that we are all going miss him dearly. This is a tragic loss for the hockey community. All of our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family"
“I am still in shock. It keeps hitting me off and on all day as I'm driving home. Though he was a fighter on the ice, he was definitely a gentle giant off the ice. He was just a real good guy, a team guy all the way. I've been looking at some of the silly pictures I have from when we were roommates and it just hits me what a good guy he was. I still can't believe I am referring to him in the past tense.”
“He was a great person. He really was. He was such a caring guy, an unselfish guy. He put himself in front of bullets for the guys. I had some great talks and great laughs with him in our car rides into the city. I will remember him fondly, and I think we all will. There are so many great things Boogey brought to our team and to our lives. For however long you knew him, it was a blessing because on the ice he was an amazing teammate, and off the ice he was an even better friend.”
“As big of a man as Derek was, his heart was even bigger. I hope that his family, friends and most importantly, those who didn't know him, understand what a great teammate he was and how much he meant to us all.”
-- A.J. Perez