Family, friends and fans say goodbye to Derek Boogaard at Xcel Center

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When Minnesota Wild fans Shelby Leske and Katie Haag created a Facebook group to organize an informal memorial service in memory of Derek Boogaard for Sunday night, it’s unlikely that they expected a turnout like the one that took place at the Xcel Energy Center. The event drew 350 Wild fans along with many of Boogaard’s closest family members and teammates, according to Michael Russo.

While the event was informal, the Wild organization embraced the opportunity to celebrate the life of the popular enforcer. Bryan Reynolds of the SBNation Wild blog Hockey Wilderness points out that popular former Wild player Wes Walz and current GM Chuck Fletcher made heartfelt speeches during the event, along with comments from Boogaard’s family members.

As you can see from one of the photos provided below, the memorial display included microphones for the various speakers, a big No. 24 Boogaard jersey, a large picture of the enforcer and a table full of flowers, some candles and other mementos left behind by fans.

Russo captured the emotional scene in this story, with reactions from his family, including his parents Len and Joanne Boogaard.

Len and Joanne Boogaard were joined by Derek’s brothers, Ryan and Aaron, sister, Krysten, half-brother, Curtis, a slew of other family and friends, former Wild teammates Brent Burns, Andrew Brunette, Niklas Backstrom, Nick Schultz, Stephane Veilleux, Wes Walz and the entire Wild training staff.

“I just look at the fans and can’t believe it,” Len Boogaard said.

The memorial was funny at times, especially when Walz spoke about how nobody wanted to skate against the 6-8 behemoth in early-year scrimmages. At times, it was heart-warming, especially when Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher talked about his memories of Boogaard and Burns wrestling on the ice and how compassionate Boogaard was with children and charities.

And at times it was downright tear-inducing, especially when his family courageously spoke.

Reynolds did a great job of describing the speech by Walz, which occasionally provided some lighter moments on a sad night for family, friends and fans.

Wes Walz was next, and called Boogaard “a true gentleman.” Walz went on, saying Boogaard was “soft spoken, kind hearted, and a gentle giant.” He offered a welcome moment of levity, telling of Boogaard’s first training camp with the Wild. “He was 21 years old, and there’s this guy skating around who is 6-8, 270 lbs, and a lot of us did not want to be on the ice with him. Guys were changing quicker, taking 15 second shifts and getting off the ice.”

Walz explained that Boogaard worked hard on his game, both in Houston, and during the summer, that he constantly worked on his skating, balance, and conditioning, so if “fights went 45 seconds or a minute, he would always have the upper hand,” stating that Boogaard knew his role, and what kept him in the league.

Talking about Boogaard’s fighting abilities, Walz said that there was a “stretch five or six years ago, [the team] had seen nothing like it, we saw him knock about eight or nine guys out in a row. Usually you see one or two a year, but guys were dropping left and right.” He added, “We loved having him on our bench. We were a small, quick team. We needed Derek in that lineup. I can tell you a lot guys on our bench grew an inch or two and were a lot braver when Derek was on the bench, which made our team better.”

It must have been a heart-wrenching scene, but it’s also an impressive showing of support for a player who meant a lot to a franchise and fan base. Again, everyone involved deserves a tremendous amount of admiration for handling a very sad situation with such class.

Make sure to read Russo and Reynolds’ full stories for more on that memorial service.

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Here are some photos from the event. First, here are a couple from Reynolds:

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Here are some additional photos from Jim Mone of The Associated Press (also responsible for this post’s main image):

(Aaron and Krysten Boogaard)

(Boogaard family gathers)

(Wild fans mourn Boogaard.)

NCAA standout Foo leaving school, will sign NHL deal this summer

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Spencer Foo, who racked up a whopping 62 points in 38 games this year for Union College, is forgoing his senior season to achieve his “life long dream of playing in the NHL.”

Where that dream takes place remains to be seen.

Foo, 22, won’t be back at Union in the fall, but will complete his spring term at Union and not sign with a pro organization until summer, per the Daily Gazette. The decision comes after a banner three seasons in school, capped off with a junior campaign in which he was nominated for ECAC Hockey Player of the Year and shortlisted for the Hobey Baker.

Foo has reportedly drawn interest from the Flyers. There have also been rumblings of the Oilers being in the mix — Foo is an Edmonton native — but it appears nearly every team has some level of interest. Consider this, from LA Kings Insider:

The Kings are among the teams involved in [Foo’s] courtship, and asked where the stiffest competition was coming from, I was told, “about 29 other teams.”

Foo is an undrafted free agent, so there’s no real rush for him to make a decision. Sounds like NHL teams are more than willing to wait it out.

Announcing the Hobey Hat Trick: Aston-Reese, Butcher, Vecchione

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Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese, Denver’s Will Butcher, and Union’s Mike Vecchione are the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

Aston-Reese, a 22-year-old forward, had 31 goals and 32 assists in 38 games this season. Undrafted, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month.

Butcher, a 22-year-old defenseman, had seven goals and 29 assists in 41 games for the Frozen Four-headed Pioneers. A fifth-round pick of the Avalanche in 2013, Butcher is still unsigned and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent Aug. 15. It remains to be seen if the Avs will offer him a contract, though it’s been reported they will.

Vecchione, a 24-year-old forward, had 29 goals and 34 assists in 38 games. Undrafted, he’s expected to sign with an NHL team shortly — possibly the Flyers or Wild.

Jimmy Vesey, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau were the Hobey Baker winners in each of the last three years.

After 12-game absence, Boychuk back for Isles

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The New York Islanders, four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and having lost their last two games, will get a huge boost tonight on the blueline.

Johnny Boychuk, who’s missed the last 12 games with a lower-body injury, will return to the lineup on Thursday when the Isles take on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll mark the first time the veteran defenseman has played since getting hurt back on Mar. 3.

(Boychuk draws in at the expense of Thomas Hickey, who’ll sit tonight.)

Needless to say, this is a massive addition for the Isles. Boychuk was averaging close to 21 minutes per night and had 21 points through 59 games before his injury, and led all New York defensemen in shots on goal.

The Isles are going to be an interesting team to watch down the stretch. It’s tough sledding, with five of their final seven contests being played on the road, though that’s mitigated by the fact they’re playing a bunch of teams outside of the playoff picture (Philly, New Jersey x2, Buffalo and Carolina).

McAvoy has the talent to improve Bruins right now

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Charlie McAvoy could be in the Providence Bruins’ lineup as soon as Friday against Albany.

Providence also plays Saturday and Sunday, so even if it’s not Friday, the 19-year-old defenseman is expected to get his first taste of pro hockey sometime this weekend.

Of course, the real question is when his Boston Bruins debut may occur.

“He has the attributes to be able to play NHL games right now, absolutely,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, per the Providence Journal. 

McAvoy has yet to ink an NHL contract. He’s in Providence on an amateur tryout after making the decision to leave Boston University. If he plays an NHL game this season, the first year of the three-year entry-level contract he’ll sign would be burned.

Hence, Sweeney’s desire to see McAvoy in the AHL before making any decisions.

“This gives an opportunity for him, first and foremost, to get a chance to play professional games, which is another level for him. [We’ll] evaluate from there,” said Sweeney.

It’s certainly possible, given McAvoy’s talent, that he could help the NHL Bruins right now. The bar is essentially Kevan Miller, Boston’s third-pairing defenseman on the right side. (If McAvoy were a left shot, the bar would be slightly lower, with all due respect to John-Michael Liles.)

The NHL Bruins, who’ve yet to book a playoff spot, have six games left in their regular season. They host Dallas tonight, Florida Saturday, and then they’re in Chicago Sunday.

Assuming McAvoy stays with Providence all weekend, his first real chance to get into an NHL game would be Tuesday against Tampa Bay.

Stay tuned.

Read more: Bruins will leave door ajar for McAvoy