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Boogaard commemorative graphic from Versus

New York Rangers’ forward Derek Boogaard, 28, was found dead in his Minneapolis, MN apartment Friday evening and though autopsy results are not expected for multiple weeks, the “Boogeyman,” as he was lovingly known by fans of the Minnesota Wild and Rangers, should be haunting NHL executives and wearing on the minds of his peers.

Regardless of what the medical examiner determines to be the cause, this is another young man victimized by concussions, many of which could be avoided by a culture shift in the NHL to work away from accepting fighting as self-policing, who has lost all he had worked for.

The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native experienced a professional whirlwind in 2010 after 5 years and 255 games played for the Wild, who selected Boogaard in the 7th round (202nd overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

After establishing himself as a top flight heavyweight enforcer amongst the ranks of NHL players, the Rangers swooped in and lured the free-agent from Minnesota with a 4 year contract worth $6.5 million, in order to toughen up the neighborhood on the ice at Madison Square Garden.

Unfortunately for the Rangers and Boogaard, because he did his job, he only suited up in his Rangers sweater 22 times in 2010, sustaining a concussion and an injured shoulder while fighting Matt Carkner of the Ottawa Senators during a December 9th game. It was his 70th and final NHL fight.

Boogaard will be missed by the hockey community he was a part of and gave back to. Opponents will not miss being on the receiving end of his policing rounds, but they can hopefully learn something from the man and his experience.

The Washington Capitals and fighting

I have sat in the stands at the Capital Center and Verizon Center pleading for Alan May, Keith Jones, Al Iafrate, Donald Brashear and numerous others to drop the gloves and spike the adrenaline and crowd investment at Capitals games.

Erskine vs. Rupp: December 31, 2010 - Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images North America

It is documented and celebrated by the site Hockeyfights.com.

But as I learn more and more about the impact of concussions in both the NHL and NFL, I find myself toning down the blood-thirst and hoping for an aggressive game showcasing the skills of the superstars.

Jarring hits will still occur and so will concussions, based on the nature of the sport, but I’d hate to lose Matt Hendricks, John Erskine, Matt Bradley or anyone else for a game – much less an abbreviated career – for a few moments of fists flying.

According to HockeyFights.com the 2010 season broke down like this for the Caps:

  • Matt Hendricks – 14 fights
  • Matt Bradley – 10
  • John Erskine/DJ King – 6
  • Jason Chimera – 4
  • Mike Green/David Steckel – 2
  • Alex Ovechkin – 1
I know a fight can set the tone of a game, energize a team and its fan base, but at some point the decision makers at the league office need to decide if stories of injuries, concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (according to The New York Times: a degenerative disease of brain tissue associated with repeated concussions) are the topics they want discussed the weekend the puck is dropped for the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup Conference Finals.

Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks

I’ll close by referring to a post recapping the 2nd episode of HBO’s 24/7 Winter Classic series.
It is provided by Dan Steinberg’s D.C. Sports Bog and showcases the reality Hendricks’ has been forced into by the pugilistic culture of the NHL:

“It comes down to having a job and making a career,” Hendricks told HBO. “I think it all started last year when I went into training camp. The season before that, I had a really good camp, had some goals, and still got sent down to the minors. I got called up for four games throughout the year, but it wasn’t enough. I needed to figure out a way to make the opening night roster. And talking to a good friend of mine, he said ‘You’ve got to fight.’ He said, ‘If you don’t do it, someone else will,’ and I kind of stick by that motto now.”

Articles for both sides of the fighting argument in the NHL:

Professional Hockey: Days Lost Per Concussion in NHL Increasing

ScienceDaily (Apr. 24, 2011) — A major University of Calgary study of concussions, conducted over seven National Hockey League seasons and led by sports medicine researchers within the Faculty of Kinesiology, indicates that while the rate of injuries leveled out over the study period, the number of days lost per concussion has increased.

Many in N.H.L. View Fighting as Necessary

Efforts to outlaw fighting in hockey go back decades. But though the number of fights in the N.H.L. has dropped significantly in recent years, fighting persists, preserved by the idea that it is a deterrent against cheap shots, a safety valve against more serious mayhem and something that fans like to watch.

Ex-Enforcer Says Fights Aren’t Real Problem

Marty McSorley is no stranger to hockey violence. He fought 273 times in a 17-year N.H.L. career. In 2000, he was convicted of assault after swinging his stick at the head of Donald Brashear, another feared enforcer, and was suspended for a year, effectively ending his career. He had numerous concussions as a player and today, at 47, has memory loss and other symptoms often associated with brain injury.