ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) - Derek Boogaard is being remembered as an NHL tough guy who had the characteristics of a “teddy bear.”
The former Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers forward, known for his ability to protect his teammates by fighting, was honored Sunday night at a tear-filled memorial for fans, friends, teammates and family.
Boogaard was found dead in his home Friday, five months after a season-ending concussion. The 28-year-old player’s family agreed to donate his brain to researchers who will look for signs of a degenerative disease often found in athletes who sustain repeated hits to the head.
The memorial sprouted from a Facebook page urging fans to gather at the arena for a candlelight vigil.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
BOSTON (AP) _ Minnesota hockey fans planned a memorial for Derek Boogaard on Sunday night to honor the former NHL tough guy who was found dead in his apartment last week, five months after a season-ending concussion that left his family wondering if his career as an enforcer had damaged his brain.
Boogaard’s agent and a spokeswoman for the Boston University School of Medicine confirmed Sunday that the family of the 28-year-old forward agreed to donate his brain to researchers who will look for signs of a degenerative disease often found in athletes who sustain repeated hits to the head.
“It’s an amazing thing he did and his family did. Hopefully, that’ll bring some information,” agent Ron Salcer told The Associated Press. “We don’t know exactly the impact that the concussions might have played.”
Boogaard, who missed the last half of last season with the New York Rangers while recovering from a concussion, was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment Friday. Police said there were no outward signs of trauma; results of an autopsy are expected to take several weeks.
So far, the only indication that Boogaard’s death might be related to concussions is the fact that his family signed papers to donate his brain to the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. The donation was first reported by the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
Salcer said Boogaard was approached by researchers after the death of former enforcer Bob Probert, who died last year at the age of 45. The center found evidence in Probert’s brain of the chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is associated with cognitive and behavioral problems and eventually causes dementia.
“He had had a concussion; they played similar styles,” Salcer said.
The center also found that Reggie Fleming, a 1960s enforcer who played before helmets became mandatory, had CTE, as did Dave Duerson, an NFL star whose brain was donated after he committed suicide.
Members of Boogaard’s family could not be reached Sunday by the AP. No one answered Derek Boogaard’s phone, and a message left there was not returned. Phone numbers for other family members were not listed, and there was no immediate response to a message left for one of Boogaard’s brothers through Facebook.
But the Wild said Boogaard’s family and several close friends would attend a memorial at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., that sprouted from a Facebook page requesting fans to gather at the arena for a candlelight vigil.
“When we heard about it, we all immediately wanted to go,” Ryan Boogaard, Derek’s brother, told the Star Tribune.
A fan favorite with the Wild from 2005-10 before joining the Rangers last year, the 6-foot-8, 257-pound Boogaard totaled 16 points and 589 penalty minutes in his six NHL seasons. Fellow players have repeatedly voted him the league’s most intimidating player.
A funeral is planned for Saturday in Regina, Saskatchewan.
AP National Writer Nancy Armour and Associated Press Writer Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.