Members of the Wild family were hit hard Friday night when it was learned that Derek Boogaard, affectionately dubbed the "Boogey Man" during his days policing the ice at Xcel Energy Center, was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment by members of his family.
The New York Rangers enforcer and one of the most popular players in Wild history was 28.
Boogaard's cause of death is unknown, but he was found at 6:10 p.m. Friday. The Hennepin County Medical
Examiner's Office confirmed an autopsy would be conducted Saturday.
"I don't know how to describe it," said goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who sat 6 feet away from Boogaard in the Wild locker room for four years. "It's really hard. Unreal guy. Great friend and an awesome teammate. Just a really big teddy bear. Outside the rink, he didn't want bad for anyone.
"If you don't know him, if you just know him by what he does on the ice, you don't know how great he is. Smiling every day. At the rink, I don't think he was mad at anyone ever. I just want to send my condolences to Boogey's family."
Boogaard, who hailed from Regina, Saskatchewan, had spent the past week in Los Angeles with his brother, Aaron, a minor league hockey player and former Wild draft pick. In a text message to the Star Tribune on Thursday, Derek Boogaard said he had just met with a public relations firm and planned to start a Twitter account.
He was excited to return to Minnesota, where he was going to be joined Friday by his other brother, Ryan, a Royal Canadian Mountie in Saskatchewan.
Boogaard also is survived by his mother, Joanne; father, Len; and younger sister, Krysten, who recently completed her senior season as a basketball player at the University of Kansas.
"Derek was an extremely kind and caring individual," Rangers General Manager Glen Sather said in a statement. "He was a very thoughtful person, who will be dearly missed by all those who knew him. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and teammates during this difficult time."
The news was stunning. The hockey world extended an outpouring of condolences on Twitter, everybody from Bobby Ryan and Scottie Upshall to Wes Walz and Jeremy Roenick to saddened Wild employees and even Brad May, against whom Boogaard had one of his more infamous fights during the 2007 playoffs.
It demonstrated how tight the hockey community is no matter the player's role.
"He was just a genuine guy," said former Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster, who now plays for Edmonton. "He liked to have fun and always came to the rink looking to have a good time. We had so much respect for him. He was a guy who took care of his teammates, took care of his friends and made sure everybody was looked after.
"That's why everybody looked up to him."
The hard-nosed, big-bodied 6-8 bruiser with an even bigger sense of humor planned to spend his summer in Minneapolis after a trying first season in New York.
Boogaard, who signed a four-year, $6.5 million contract with the Rangers last July after five seasons with the Wild, was limited to 22 games in New York because of a serious concussion. In March, he talked about how he never had experienced anything like it. He barely could leave his West Side apartment for weeks and had to wear sunglasses outdoors because he was bothered by sunlight.
He took solace in walks around Central Park.
In a text message to the Star Tribune last month, Boogaard said: "I did not want to have the year I had for my first year. I disappointed a lot of people. So I gotta work my [butt] off this summer so I can get back to what I was doing in Minny, you know?"
In a statement, the Wild said: "Derek was a fan favorite during his five seasons with the Wild and will be greatly missed here in Minnesota and throughout the NHL. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Boogaard family during this tragic time of loss."
Backstrom, who used to verbally joust with Boogaard as they poked fun at each other, was devastated by the news.
"He'd come to the rink always so happy," Backstrom said. "He enjoyed the game, he enjoyed life. Even on the ice, he had such a tough role. I look at those guys, and I don't know how they do it. But every day, he did it, and if he wasn't the best, he was one of the best."
In 255 games with the Wild, Boogaard had 54 fights and amassed 544 penalty minutes.
On Nov. 9, 2010, he scored his first goal since Jan. 7, 2006 -- or 1,768 days -- to end the longest goal drought in NHL history in a loss to Washington. In a text to the Star Tribune, Boogaard wrote, "I finally got it drilled into my head, I gotta shoot more like [Brian] Rolston!"
Boogaard was very close with former Wild forward Marian Gaborik and current Wild defenseman Brent Burns. With Burns, Boogaard became a supporter of the Defending the Blue Line Foundation.
While with the Rangers, he created "Boogaard's Booguardians," hosting military members and their families at all Rangers home games.