Boogaard was convinced to turn pro midway through the 2002-03 season when he was having troubles in WHL Medicine Hat. He signed an ECHL contract with the Louisiana IceGators.
He spent the first year in Louisiana figuring out if he really wanted to play and to gain the work ethic he needed, said McLellan. There is no room in the game anymore for a player to just bring one thing to the table.
It is the work ethic, along with confidence and ice time, that has led for Boogaard to be a viable member of the team. He has averaged 10 minutes of ice time per game in the last two months.
When we sat down and talked about Derek at the beginning of the season, we knew we had to teach him and mold him, said McLellan. Hes really buying into it. Its not just about getting into fisticuffs and taking bad penalties. He allows us to trust him. Weve been able to help him develop his hockey skills.
Boogaards improved play (two assists in the last four games and ice time in some important situations) can be attributed to one thing in particular, Boogaard says confidence.
The coaches have helped me out during practice and after with extra drills, said Boogaard. A lot of it is me just growing up and being more mature. I listen more now.
For McLellan, the added ice time is his way of rewarding Boogaard for hard work.
He is playing 10 minutes a night, said McLellan. You dont see him on the penalty kill but were not afraid to put him out there on the power play. A lot of it is based on the reward factor. Hes a guy who does a lot of dirty work for his teammates and gets them chances. You reward him for play like that.
This is all something no one ever bothered to work on with Boogaard, according to McLellan.
The unfortunate thing is in juniors he was shipped around to so many different places and no one took any time to develop his hockey skills, he said. He was in a pugilist role. They just sent him out there to fight. Its probably the wrong way to develop a player even in that role.
Boogaard has evolved as a fighter throughout the season despite having no real physical mentor around. A quick quiz at the Toyota Center press row last week couldnt come up with the last time he was handled in a fight.
I think it comes with playing with a lot of confidence, said McLellan. His emotions are peaked and hes warm from playing as opposed to just hopping over the boards to fight.
Boogaard has had several fights, most recently, where hes been quick to pummel his opponent to the ground. However, many opponents wont let him get the chance.
All of the fights have been similar, said Boogaard. They dont really want to let loose of me and let me use my size. You learn different things during the fights. You can feel how a guy fights by how much of a struggle it is.
A lot of young fighters will have others around him with similar backgrounds. Not Boogaard.
It would be out of my element to teach him how to be a combatant, said McLellan. Hes a student of the game though in all areas. He handles himself very well.
Boogaard handles himself so well, as a matter of fact, that there have been only two opponents who have bothered to drop the gloves with him on more than one occasion this season Utahs Mike Sgroi and San Antonios Jeff Paul, who have each fought him three times.
With 13 games left in the regular season, Boogaard has 207 penalty minutes, second among AHL rookies and 12th all time on the Aeros single-season penalty minute list. His total is the most ever for an Aeros rookie and the most for an Aero since the teams move to the AHL in 2001-02.
Theres another Boogaard moving his way through the western Canada ranks younger brother Aaron, who is draft eligible this year. Aaron is smaller, though still a hulking 6-foot-3 and 215-pound teenager who sometimes has trouble getting outside his older brothers giant shadow. Aaron has also been shipped from team to team, mostly because many coaches believe that because of his last name, he can have only one role.
Right now its a gray area in juniors, said the elder Boogaard. There are some really good coaches and some bad. They try to play a head game. In Calgary they threw him out there for a couple of shifts and they wanted him to fight. But he doesnt want to do what I do. I just tell him to hang in there and be more consistent. You cant have an off night, come back and play well, then have an off night again. Youve got to get better in each game.
A great bit of brotherly advice from someone whos lived it.