Book review: You will view hockey fights differently after reading tragic tale of Derek Boogaard

Here is my review in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row on “Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard” by John Branch.

You also can access the review via my Twitter feed at @Sherman_Report.

Branch’s excellent book really will change your perspective the next time two guys throw their gloves to the ice.

An excerpt of the review.


Typically, it is difficult to feel compassion for a hockey “goon” whose main job is to try to re-arrange faces in brawls during games.

Yet John Branch accomplished that mission in his new book, “Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard.” He details how Boogaard was a tragic victim because of a fighting culture that exists in hockey.

The book is an extended version of Branch’s series in The New York Times that received national attention for documenting what happened to Boogaard. A native of Saskatchewan, his size — eventually reaching 6 feet 7 inches tall and 260-odd pounds — along with somewhat limited hockey skills led to him being cast by coaches as an “enforcer” as early as in junior programs. His role was to be a physical and intimidating force on the ice and to take on the opponents’ enforcers in game-stopping fights.

Boogaard worked his way up to the NHL, where he became known as the league’s top fighter while playing for the Minnesota Wild. In his first two seasons, he fought 26 times in 113 games, becoming a fan favorite with the nickname “Boogeyman.” Boogaard’s fists eventually led to the New York Rangers signing him to a four-year, $6.5 million contract in 2010.

The brawls, though, took a toll, as Boogaard was debilitated by shoulder and back injuries, not to mention all the blows to his head that did extensive damage to his brain, according to research after his death. In fighting the constant pain, he became addicted to pain killers and other substances. Remarkably, Branch writes that Boogaard continued to receive prescriptions for large quantities of pills from NHL team doctors even though they knew he was in substance abuse programs. Boogaard died of an overdose in 2011 at the age of 28.

It didn’t have to be this way for Boogaard. “No one ever told Derek directly that his primary mission in hockey would be to fight,” Branch writes of the young boy.


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