Teaching the Kid to Enforce

The New York Times examines the life of Derek Boogard, who died at 28 after a brief career pummeling his way through the underside of ice hockey.

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There's an ominous anecdote in the first installment of The New York Times' trilogy about the life and death of the Derek Boogard, one that comes a little more than halfway through the story. Boogard, as a 15-year-old player of so-so skills on a team losing badly to a rival in a Saskatchewan rink. Then the boy snaps.

This much is clear: Melfort was losing badly, and 15-year-old Derek Boogaard was suddenly inside the other team’s bench, swinging away at opposing players.

“It felt like I had a force feild on me,” Boogaard wrote. (His notes had occasional misspellings.)

Players scattered like spooked cats, fleeing over the wall or through the open gates.

“He had gone ballistic,” Len Boogaard said. “It was something I hadn’t seen before.”

Eventually subdued and sent to the dressing room, Boogaard re-emerged in his street clothes. He sidled up to his seething father, who was dressed in his police uniform.

“Dad just kinda asked me what the [expletive] are you doing?” Boogaard wrote. “So I stood by him for the rest of the game.”

The stands were full of scouts looking for hockey talent. Their reaction to this instant is, at first, astonishment. But what follows is haunting, given the way The Times' story points to Boogard's future career as an enforcer — a dedicated fighter — wrecked his health, his quality of life, and seemingly contributed to his early death. The scouts approach Boogard's father. Having seen the boy fight, they want to give him a tryout.

It's an acknowledgment of the brutal role he will be asked to play. An admittedly sub-standard skater and puck-handler, Boogard was there to provide violence. It seems it eventually helped to kill him.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.