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Minnesota Wild fans hold tearful memorial for Derek Boogaard

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Katie Haag said it was one of the hardest things she's ever had to do.

At a memorial service Haag helped organize for Minnesota Wild fans, she presented Derek Boogaard's mother with a bouquet of flowers, 48 hours after her son was found dead in his apartment.

Haag walked back to an area of Xcel Energy Center where Boogaard's family was gathered and went to her. "I told her I was so sorry. I handed her the flowers and gave her a hug," said Haag, who said the presence of his family at the Sunday evening memorial at the arena made it a poignant affair.

"As soon as his family got up there … everyone was feeling what they felt. I couldn't hold back tears, and everyone else was wiping their eyes," she said.

Haag and Shelby Leske, Minnesota fans, began organizing the tribute on Friday night, hours after the 28-year-old member of the New York Rangers was discovered by family members in his Minneapolis apartment. They created a Facebook invitation — titled "RIP Boogaard :(" — and asked fans to converge at the arena on Sunday night with candles and memories to honor the fallen fan favorite, who played for the Wild from 2005-2009.

Haag said that Michael Russo, the Wild beat reporter with the Star Tribune, helped reach out to the family for the event, which drew around 350 fans.

From Russo at the Star Tribune:

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.

Haag said one of the saddest moments came when one of Boogaard's family members was overcome with emotion. "His brother Aaron got up and said about two words before he had to pass [the mic] over," she said.

From KARE 11:

From Bryan Reynolds at HockeyWilderness.com:

Wild fans outside the gate spontaneously broke out in song, offering Amazing Grace, the Wild anthem, and Oh Canada in tribute to Derek.

To be certain, the memorial tonight gave a much needed reality to the entire situation. We do not know what happened to Derek, nor after hearing the words this evening, does it really matter. We all learned that Derek Boogaard was not just a hockey player. He was a loved and valued member of a family, a friend, and a teammate. He was, as we are forced to accept, human.

Grab someone you love tonight, and every night, and give them a big hug. Tell them you love them, and tell them how much. Then, explain to them that the Boogeyman is never something they should fear.

Haag said that she's not sure if the Facebook campaign will continue to honor Boogaard's memory in some way going forward. For now, she said she's honored the event they helped create gave fans an outlet for their grief — and a way to remember a celebrated player in the franchise's short history.

"He was such an entertaining guy. Even going to the [Wild] skills competitions, you could tell he was the nicest guy," she said.

"I was proud of our Minnesotans tonight."

Photos by Bryan Reynolds/Hockey Wilderness

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