It may be weeks before authorities know exactly how and why New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard died, although foul play was not immediately suspected.
The 28-year-old player was found dead Friday in his Minneapolis apartment. Few details were available, but the news rippled across the NHL, where the 6-foot-7 Boogaard was a fan favorite and one of the game’s most feared fighters. He missed most of last season because of a concussion and shoulder injury from a fight.
”I don’t think we have any answers as to what happened or why it happened,” Ron Salcer, Boogaard’s agent, said Saturday.
Authorities received a report of a man not breathing shortly before 6:15 p.m. Friday, Minneapolis police Sgt. William Palmer said. Minneapolis fire officials were the first to arrive and determined he was dead.
Palmer said authorities do not suspect foul play at this point, but the police department’s homicide unit and the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office are investigating. Palmer said the medical examiner will decide the cause of death.
An autopsy was being conducted Saturday, but county spokeswoman Carol Allis said results probably will not be released for at least two weeks.
She said in cases with no obvious signs of physical trauma or an obvious immediate cause of death, it takes time to receive results of laboratory tests. Allis said the medical examiner’s office doesn’t anticipate releasing preliminary autopsy findings until all results are in.
”The news that we have lost someone so young and so strong leaves everyone in the National Hockey League stunned and saddened,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. ”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.”
Glen Sather, the Rangers’ president and general manager, called Boogaard an ”extremely kind and caring individual” and a ”very thoughtful person.”
Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that Boogaard was an ”amazing teammate.”
”Anytime anything happened or if you needed anything, Boogy was always there. He was always a pleasure to be around. Always joking and having fun.”
Rangers forward Brandon Prust said on Twitter: ”At a loss for words. I’ll miss my roomy Derek Boogaard. You will be missed by everyone. Great friend and teammate.”
Fans, meanwhile, flocked online to express their sadness. For years, fans have been going to YouTube to watch ”The Boogeyman” do battle.
His final game was Dec. 9 at Ottawa when he fought Matt Carkner and sustained a concussion and shoulder injury. That was the 70th fight of his NHL career, and by midday Saturday more than 80,000 people had watched replays of that fight on YouTube.
Boogaard signed a four-year, $6.5 million deal with the Rangers in July and appeared in 22 games last season. He had a goal and an assist to go with 45 penalty minutes.
Boogaard was out for the last 52 games of the regular season because of his injuries and did not play in the playoffs. He didn’t skate again until about three months after the concussion. He was sent home to Minnesota late in the season to work on conditioning.
In several player polls, Boogaard was voted as the league’s most intimidating player. When the Rangers signed him last summer, Sather said the decision was made because Boogaard was ”the biggest and toughest.”
He had seven fights with the Rangers. His lone goal of the season was scored at home against Washington on Nov. 9. That ended a drought of 234 games he played without a goal, dating to Jan. 7, 2006. It was the longest streak without a goal in the league.
Boogaard began his NHL career with Minnesota and appeared in 255 games with the Wild from 2005-10. He missed four games with the Wild because of a concussion. In 277 regular-season games with Minnesota and the Rangers over six seasons, he had three goals and 13 assists and 589 penalty minutes.
Minnesota center Pierre-Marc Bouchard played with Boogaard for five years.
”Every player on our team felt a little bit more safe with him on the ice with us,” Bouchard said in a phone interview. ”He was really tough on the ice, but outside the ice he was a great guy.”
San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan coached Boogaard for two years in the minors in Houston.
”He was a lovable guy that everybody liked,” McLellan said. ”Obviously mean and nasty on the ice. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Boogaard was Minnesota’s seventh-round choice, 202nd overall, in the 2001 draft. He gained notice in the summer of 2007 when he and brother Aaron ran a hockey-fighting class in Saskatchewan. Some voiced concern about such a camp. Boogaard insisted he wasn’t teaching kids how to hurt each other, but rather how to protect themselves so they don’t get hurt on the ice.
This is the second death of a player in the Rangers organization in the past three years. Alexei Cherepanov, drafted by New York in 2007, died in Chekhov, Russia, in 2008, after collapsing on the bench during a game. The 19-year-old Cherepanov didn’t sign with the Rangers and never played in the NHL.
Roman Lyashenko, who briefly played with the Rangers several years ago, was found dead in a hotel in Turkey while on vacation in 2003. His death was believed to be a suicide.