Last December the NY Times ran a series on Derek Boogaard, the NHL player who committed suicide in May of 2011. You can read the article here.
I am in no way trying to lay the blame for Boogaard’s suicide on the NHL’s official stance on fighting. He made his choices based on one of the ways that young players can find their way into professional hockey. The NY Times story attempted to provide some understanding of Boogaard’s development before he joined the NHL and it is only one personal account.
But the triggering effect for this blog can be traced to an excerpt from this article, noted below:
The reaction of the scouts that winter’s night in Melfort made it clear what to expect when Boogaard went to his first W.H.L. training camp in
“He knew,” Ripplinger said. “He was a smart guy. He knew he wasn’t going to be good enough to make it on skills alone, and he used his size to his advantage. I remember him at 16 years old, pushing weights and boxing and stuff like that. He knew his job.”
At 16 years of age, Boogaard knew that his only route to the NHL meant using his fists, not his skates or his stick. It struck me that the game that I have always loved had created a system that forces teenagers to make that choice. The Canadian junior hockey leagues have to take responsibility for that system – owners and coaches that encouraged that mind set, and officials who do nothing about stopping it. If you want to make it to the big leagues then start thinking about beating up other teenagers.
I like to think that all the media reporting on the decline of the enforcer will help turn the tide. The reduction of fighting by 25%, recently cited in many hockey publications, may drive home that there are less enforcer jobs in the NHL, and discourage young players from seeing that as an option. Maybe one 16 year-old will read those statistics and decide to concentrate on going to school and getting an education, instead of lifting weights and taking boxing lessons.