Derek Boogaard wasn’t counted on to be a scorer with the Minnesota Wild under Jacques Lemaire, but when he did, the coach noticed a little more juice on his bench.
“The guys were a lot more excited and they wanted him to have success,” said Lemaire, who retired at the end of last season after serving as the Devils coach. “You know the reason why, it’s very simple. It’s because he was a good person.”
Like most of the hockey community, Lemaire has strong memories on and off the ice of Boogaard, the former Rangers and Wild forward who died Friday at 28. Lemaire coached Boogaard for the first four seasons of his career, from 2005-09.
“He cared about the team and he wanted to win,” Lemaire said. “He was doing everything he could to make the team better.”
Lemaire remembers Boogaard specifically as his squad’s enforcer, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound force who didn’t mind tangling it up with the meanest and toughest players on the opposing team.
He said Boogaard wasn’t gifted with the skills that players need to play in the NHL so he wasn’t sure if he would be able to make it, but the left wing’s hard work and willingness to listen to his coaching staff convinced Lemaire to give him a chance.
In four seasons with Lemaire, Boogaard scored just two goals and notched eight assists, but racked up 439 penalty minutes. “Being an enforcer, it’s a tough job because sometimes you have to fight the guys and a lot of times you probably don’t feel like fighting them but you have to do it,” Lemaire said. “Boogy never backed up. He was there to do his job. He knew what his job was and to me, he was very easy to coach.”
Lemaire remembers one time when he called Boogaard into this office to dress him down about some infraction, but as Boogaard walked in, Lemaire said the big man looked almost defenseless and the coach just couldn’t bring himelf to scold him.
His former coach also praised Boogaard for the active role he took in charity events, as he supported the Defending the Blue Line Foundation and created “Boogaard’s Booguardians,” which hosted military members and their families at all Rangers home games.
“He’s a guy that I think really appreciated that he could play in the NHL and wanted to give society a little bit of what he got,” Lemaire said. “That’s why he didn’t count the hours he was there for anyone who needed him.”
When Lemaire found out the news of Boogaard's death on Friday, he couldn’t believe it. Boogaard might not have been the most talented player in the NHL, but he won over Lemaire in their time together.
“When I look at him as a person, I look at the guys on the team. I know they loved him and respected him a lot for the type of job he was doing. It’s not an easy job to go out every night and do that kind of work,” Lemaire said. “Every time he had just a little success, all the guys were really excited and really proud for him.”