Derek Boogaard doesn’t need to drop his gloves any more, as much as raise them to celebrate a goal.
Respected as one of the NHL’s best fighters — even his introductory handshake hurts — the Minnesota Wild winger yearns to end a 174-game goal-less streak, longest in the league at present.
His latest chance came and went last night against the Maple Leafs, having last scored Jan. 7, 2006. He has two goals in 207 career games.
But this has still been a good season for 6-foot-8, 257-pounder from Saskatoon, with his ice time up to a career high six minutes a game.
“Every (fighter) gets their cup of coffee in the NHL, but then you have to evolve,” Boogaard said before the game. “When Jacques Lemaire was coaching here, he helped me with my defensive play. He put you in there and you had to be responsible. And I joined the team right after the lockout when skating came back in the game, so that helped, too.”
New coach Todd Richards wanted to make the Wild a more fluid team, but wasn’t sure at first if Boogaard was going to adapt.
“Before one of his first games of the year, I didn’t trust him,” the coach recalled. “Now he has that trust. And everybody knows the other element he brings to our team. He makes the guys in that locker room feel safer.”
That’s certainly true for Leafs’ skinny centre Rickard Wallin. In 2004-05 he and Boogaard were linemates with Minnesota’s AHL team, the Houston Aeros, when Boogaard had almost 300 penalty minutes. As a man to be avoided by about 99% of the league, Boogaard has just 11 penalty minutes in nine games this year.
“I’ve watched Boogey on TV and it looks like he’s in a lot better shape,” Wallin said. “It’s hard on a guy when he goes out there and has to think about protecting people, but wants to show the coach he can play.”
As for the goal drought, the Wild think the big day is coming soon, but in the meantime are having lots of yuks at his expense. Goalie Niklas Backstrom predicted another two lockouts would come and go before Boogaard trips the red light again. Winger Cal Clutterbuck was a bit more optimistic.
“He’s throwing no-look backhand passes in practice,” Clutterbuck noted. “I’m going to say he scores, hmm, before Christmas.”
Boogaard’s last goal was in a 4-1 win over the Ducks, at least officially.
“I think there were a few that actually went off my shin pads since, but whatever,” Boogaard said. “It’s one of those things I have to keep working at.”