Boogaard suffered brain trauma

Derek Boogaard had a surprisingly advanced amount of brain damage when he died in May at age 28,...

Derek Boogaard had a surprisingly advanced amount of brain damage when he died in May at age 28, researchers from Boston University found. (ERIC MILLER/Reuters file photo)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:32 PM ET

TORONTO - Derek Boogaard's brain was so badly decayed by disease that he would have had dementia by middle age.

The former NHL enforcer had a surprisingly advanced amount of brain damage when he died in May at age 28, researchers from Boston University found when studying Boogaard's brain. The New York Rangers forward was suffering from a degenerative brain disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a close relative to Alzheimer's disease that has been linked to repeated head trauma, according to a report in the New York Times.

The amount of damage to Boogaard's brain was startling to Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist who is co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. The damage, more extensive than is normally found in someone so young, was spreading through Boogaard's brain.

"To see this amount? That's a 'wow' moment," McKee told the Times. "That surprised me."

Boogaard's family agreed to donate his brain to the centre for study after he died of an accidental overdose of alcohol and prescription painkillers at his home in Minneapolis last May. McKee's research group found that the damage to Boogaard's brain was more advanced than that of Bob Probert, another former NHL enforcer who died at age 45 in 2010.

Two other former NHL players, Reggie Fleming and Rick Martin, were also found to have CTE after their deaths, the only time the disease can be diagnosed. But NHL commissioner Gary Bettman isn't convinced there is a connection between hockey and CTE.

"There isn't a lot of data, and the experts who we talked to, who consult with us, think that it's way premature to be drawing any conclusions at this point," Bettman told the Times. "Because we're not sure that any, based on the data we have available, is valid."


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