BOSTON — The Bruins and Lightning are focused on their Eastern Conference Final, set to finally begin Saturday night at the Garden. But players from both teams had other thoughts weighing on their minds as well on Saturday morning after learning of the passing of New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard on Friday.
"It was very shocking," said Bruins defenseman Shane Hnidy, who played with Boogaard in Minnesota in 2009-10. "You never want to hear something like that, especially a former teammate. It hits the whole hockey community. As much as we are competitors, it is overall like a big family. We're all in the same situation. We live the same lifestyle. It's really tough. It hit me pretty hard last night when I first heard."
Boogaard, just 28 at the time of his death, was found Friday in his Minneapolis apartment. The cause of his death is not known.
At 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, Boogaard was one of the biggest and most feared enforcers in the league, but his teammates will remember him more for the kindness and humor he displayed away from the rink.
"Everybody just saw the big, tough exterior, but he was a great guy who really gave back," Hnidy said. "Especially in Minny, he was probably the most popular player there. He gave back. He always took pictures [with fans]. We were injured together at the end of the year last year, so we hung around quite a bit.
"It's a terrible loss," Hnidy added. "He was still a young man. Everybody just sees him as this big, tough guy, but underneath he was just a great guy. He was always fun. I always had a lot of fun with him. I'm going to remember him more for the behind the scenes. I knew what he was like. I knew he was a giving guy. I will remember all the good from him."
But Boogaard was still a dangerous man on the ice. Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton knows that very well. He tangled with Boogaard several times, including once early this season. But it was a different Boogaard fight that Thornton remembers best.
"He's partially the reason I'm in the NHL," Thornton said. "He broke [Todd] Fedoruk's face in a fight and that's what gave me my chance."
Fedoruk's injury opened a spot in Anaheim's lineup early in the 2006-07 season, and Thornton was recalled from Anaheim's AHL affiliate in Portland to fill the void. He played the rest of the year with the Ducks, earning a full-time role in the NHL for the first time and winning the Cup with Anaheim that spring before signing with the Bruins the following summer. Thornton was grateful for Boogaard's unintended role in helping him reach the NHL, but was also wary whenever he had to go up against the giant.
"He scared the hell out of me," Thornton said. "He was a big man. A lot of guys do this job, and he was definitely at the top of the list for guys you didn't really want to run into. If you had to, you had, that's our job, but he had the potential to hurt you."
But like the rest of the hockey world, the biggest hurt came from the news of Boogaard's passing.
"It's sad," Thornton said. "It's very sad and our hearts go out to his family. I have a lot of respect for him as a person. I've only met him a couple times other than the times we met on the ice. Obviously, he was feared. He was probably the toughest guy in this league. It's definitely a sad day."
It was a somber scene in the Lightning room as well, where starting goalie Dwayne Roloson also had fond memories of Boogaard from their time together in Minnesota.
"It's a pretty tough thing to handle right now," Roloson said. "He was a great person away from the rink. At the rink, there's not much that needs to be said about what he did for his teammates on the ice. He gave them that security, but at the same time, he did the little things that helped his teammates succeed in the game of hockey. It's very unfortunate and my heart goes out to his family right now."
Roloson saw Boogaard work his way up from the minors, constantly working on his skills before finally reaching the NHL in 2005-06, which was Roloson's last season with the Wild before being traded to Edmonton.
"He was an awesome guy in the room," Roloson said. "I remember when he first broke in. Every day he came to work hard and wanted to get better. He wanted to make it to the NHL and wanted to prove to every person out there that said he couldn't make it wrong. He was one of one of those guys that was always first-on, last-off and obviously he succeeded."
Even as they moved on to new teams, with Roloson signing with the Islanders and then being traded to Tampa late this season and Boogaard signing with the Rangers last summer, the former teammates kept in touch and remained close.
"Especially when he [signed with] New York, I was in Long Island so I got to see him a lot then, talked to him off and on," Roloson said. "Our team in Minnesota was a really close team and guys keep in contact all the time throughout that organization from the time I was there until now. It says a lot about the organization and the quality guys that were there. It's unfortunate and hopefully his family is doing OK."