September 07, 2011
It was the line they had to sell due to the privacy mandate from the NHL and NHLPA's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. In reality, Boogaard was being treated for an addiction to painkillers.
That's one of the many revelations in Michael Russo's enthralling piece in the Star Tribune about Ryan Boogaard, whose brother Derek died on May 13 from an accidental mixture of alcohol and Oxycodone. The New York Rangers forward was 28.
It's an article that shares an inside look at a player's battle with addiction, and how his friends and family cope with it. It also traces the roots of the addiction that eventually led to Boogaard's death back to his career of hockey fights and one significant injury. From the Star Tribune:
The Boogaard family believes Derek became addicted after shoulder surgery in April 2009. After years of fighting 20 or 30 times a year, especially in junior hockey and the minors, he dealt with pain for years. "He had a herniated disk in his back," Ryan said. "The doctors told him, 'When your career is done, you're going to have to get this fixed, because it'll affect you for the rest of your life.'
"For a fourth-line guy trying to stick in the NHL, he couldn't afford to take a year off. So he took pills. And ... I know his hands were always hurting. They were clubs. They weren't even shaped like hands anymore."
But more than anything, Russo's piece serves as a cautionary tale for players in the NHL, fighters and otherwise, who might be battling their own painkiller addictions. From Ryan Boogaard:
"I'm telling you, there is a lot of prescription pill drug abuse in the NHL. I have a real close friend of mine who plays in the NHL. He told me a story where he had his wisdom teeth pulled, and right away one guy called up and said, 'Can I have your painkillers?'"
That the deaths of Boogaard, Rick Rypien(notes) and Wade Belak(notes) have been hastily politicized by some is repulsive, especially since commonalities between the three tragedies are getting more difficult to establish as more information becomes available.
But in a general sense, their deaths have opened up a positive dialogue in the NHL community about subjects like post-career mental health and painkiller abuse. As Riley Cote said in a recent Men's Health interview: "The NHL is fighting the pharmaceutical industry."
Derek Boogaard didn't lose many of them, but he tragically lost that fight.