Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard Info

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“Shows us, in tender detail, a life consumed by our
unholy appetites.”―Steve Almond, New York Times Book
Review

The tragic death of hockey star Derek Boogaard
at twenty-eight was front-page news across the country in 2011 and
helped shatter the silence about violence and concussions in
professional sports. Now, in a gripping work of narrative nonfiction,
acclaimed reporter John Branch tells the shocking story of Boogaard's
life and heartbreaking death.  

Boy on Ice is the richly
told story of a mountain of a man who made it to the absolute pinnacle
of his sport. Widely regarded as the toughest man in the NHL, Boogaard
was a gentle man off the ice but a merciless fighter on it. With great
narrative drive, Branch recounts Boogaard's unlikely journey from
lumbering kid playing pond-hockey on the prairies of Saskatchewan, so
big his skates would routinely break beneath his feet; to his teenaged
junior hockey days, when one brutal outburst of violence brought
Boogaard to the attention of professional scouts; to his days and nights
as a star enforcer with the Minnesota Wild and the storied New York
Rangers, capable of delivering career-ending punches and intimidating
entire teams. But, as Branch reveals, behind the scenes Boogaard's
injuries and concussions were mounting and his mental state was
deteriorating, culminating in his early death from an overdose of
alcohol and painkillers.

Based on months of investigation and
hundreds of interviews with Boogaard's family, friends, teammates, and
coaches, Boy on Ice is a brilliant work for fans of Michael
Lewis's The Blind Side or Buzz Bissinger's Friday Night
Lights
. This is a book that raises deep and disturbing questions
about the systemic brutality of contact sports―from peewees to
professionals―and the damage that reaches far beyond the game.

16
photographs

Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard:

3

Nov 03, 2014

This is a biography of Derek Boogaard, a hockey player who died at age 28 of alcohol and prescription drug poisoning.

I didn't know very much about hockey before I read this but fortunately John Branch discusses the history of the hockey for readers like me. He also examines the reasons why violence began and then persisted in the sport.

Branch explains the unofficial position called 'enforcer' on the hockey team that, essentially, intimidates or pummels the opponents into submission.

I knew that This is a biography of Derek Boogaard, a hockey player who died at age 28 of alcohol and prescription drug poisoning.

I didn't know very much about hockey before I read this but fortunately John Branch discusses the history of the hockey for readers like me. He also examines the reasons why violence began and then persisted in the sport.

Branch explains the unofficial position called 'enforcer' on the hockey team that, essentially, intimidates or pummels the opponents into submission.

I knew that hockey was violent from anecdotal stories but I didn't realize how the various minor leagues supported the development of the enforcer role. Men are specifically scouted for their abilities in this area.

Derek wasn't born an enforcer. In Canada, hockey is like football in some small towns in America- everybody plays beginning at quite a young age.

His enormous size drew attention but he wasn't particularly skilled at the game. Coaches put him into the enforcer role and he was able to fulfill their demands.

Throughout his life, Derek suffered from pain caused by his job and began to take prescription drugs to find some relief. Predictably, he became addicted.

Branch carefully dissects the reasons why Derek abused drugs and it is very sad. His family obviously cared about him, but they either did not realize the extent of the problem or because of the distance that they lived away from Derek, they didn't have the ability to do anything about it.

An additional layer of complexity is added to the story with Branch's explanation of concussions in professional sports and how, in the late 1990's and early 2000's, medical experts were just becoming aware of the extent of the problem.

After his death, Derek's family donates his brain to the medical community and what they discover was truly shocking.

I liked Branch's analysis of the social, economic, and personal reasons why Derek lived the way he did. He painted a picture that was both approachable but also extraordinary.

Approachable in that Derek was a boy from a small town in Canada who liked quiet family evenings and country music. Extraordinary in that Derek was a professional athlete with a million dollar paycheck and needed to experience life to its fullest.

I also liked reading portions of a childhood diary written by Derek that included his grammar mistakes and misspellings. The inclusion of this material lent a very personal feel to the book.

From Derek's childhood to his last struggling days, Branch gives meticulous dates, times, and names.

I didn't like the seemingly endless descriptions of Derek's bloody fights on the ice. During his career, it seemed like he fought constantly and the biography feels monotonous throughout that portion. He went to a game, got in a fight, and repeat.

For that reason, the graphic details, I would recommend Boy on Ice to, primarily, fans of the game. If you have season tickets for your hockey team and relish the atmosphere, you may really enjoy this biography.

Personally, I found the descriptions of violence too disturbing to be enjoyable. However, Branch raises legitimate questions about the place of the enforcer in hockey, how it causes permanent damage to the men who take up that role, and how it changed and then ended the life of Derek Boogaard far too soon.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. ...more
5

Oct 11, 2014

The first time I looked at the dust jacket of John Branch’s new biography of former hockey player Derek Boogaard, entitled, BOY ON ICE: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF DEREK BOOGAARD I was struck by what a large figure Boogaard presented. Here was an individual who stood almost seven feet tall on skates and weighed around 275 pounds, however after reading Branch’s fine narrative of his life I was struck by how gentle and unassuming a person he was, and in many ways his behavior and thoughts were that of a The first time I looked at the dust jacket of John Branch’s new biography of former hockey player Derek Boogaard, entitled, BOY ON ICE: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF DEREK BOOGAARD I was struck by what a large figure Boogaard presented. Here was an individual who stood almost seven feet tall on skates and weighed around 275 pounds, however after reading Branch’s fine narrative of his life I was struck by how gentle and unassuming a person he was, and in many ways his behavior and thoughts were that of a boy, at times simple, and at times complex.

Derek Boogaard grew up in a small prairie town in northern Saskatchewan where hockey was something that boys engaged in as almost a religion. If you had any talent or perhaps the size it became a way of life. Boogaard fit right into this formula. He was always the largest boy for his age and though he was not the swiftest skater or the most proficient stick handler, he had what many coaches say cannot be taught, size. From his earliest days in organized hockey his role became clear, defend his smaller teammates, and make opponents feel uncomfortable whenever he was on the ice. John Branch does an exceptional job following Boogaard’s development as a person and a hockey player from a very young age and traces his career from its lowest level when kids follow the puck like swarming bees, through his teenage years as a Bantam, through junior hockey, various levels of minor league hockey, until he finally reached the pinnacle, the National Hockey League. In each instance, thanks to the cooperation of the Boogaard family, close friends, professional hockey careerists, and finally notes that Derek left about his childhood, Branch is able to explain what his subject went through and was thinking at each level of his career.

Boogaard’s official role as a hockey player was that of an “enforcer,” a role that consisted of intimidating opponents on the ice and if need be to fight the person who filled the same role for the opposing team. Branch does a marvelous job of tracing the history of violence in hockey and the evolution of the “enforcer.” He discusses the impact of that role on the sport, the reactions of players and coaches, and the rationalizations offered by team general managers, owners, and National Hockey League officials when it was becoming increasingly obvious that the constant violence, that at times dominated the sport, was resulting in the deterioration of the medical health of a number of hockey players in retirement, and who were still on the ice.

Branch does a superb job analyzing the sub culture that surrounds the “enforcer” in hockey. For most of the men who adopt the role it is their only “meal ticket” to play the sport professionally. Though some possess some hockey sense and/or skills, most do not, and are labeled as “goons.” These men do not enjoy fighting and in many ways approach their role as nothing more than a job. In Derek’s case off the ice he was a very sweet person who tried to care for everyone, was very giving of himself, and his generosity with his time and money new no bounds. However, when Derek was challenged on the ice, it seemed as if a light switch was turned on and he would try and pummel his opponent(s) into submission. Once the fight was over he would skate to the penalty box without engaging in the histrionics that other enforcers engaged in as they fed off the crowd in the arena. For years, enforcers liked what they earned from fighting, respect and a career that paid them well. However, they were not aware of the hidden costs. For Derek, with strength and power, with the ability to win fights and gain recognition, he basically did not enjoy beating others up. “He enjoyed it when he needed it, but some of it weighed on him.” The pressure was enormous, one lost fight, a broken bone or injury and the team could send him back to the minors, a lucrative career, over. It was difficult never knowing what a game would bring as “shift by shift, enforcers had to be ready to fight at a moment’s notice.”(154) If you didn’t want to do it, there were many others who would gladly take your roster spot. “Even as Derek arrived, the line of NHL enforcers was littered with broken lives. Alcohol and pain killers especially became the antidotes to the pain and pressure.” (155)

Branch catalogued many of Derek’s fights as if he were a ring announcer covering a fight broadcast from Las Vegas. The toll of his hockey career led to numerous injuries, broken noses, ripped tissue that never healed on his knuckles, torn shoulder muscles and constant back pain. For Derek and many others they thought their only recourse to maintain their jobs was pain killers. Branch delineates the prodigious amount of pain killers that Derek ingested over his four year hockey career. Vicodin, oxycodone, Percocet, oxycontin, et al was the elixir that dulled the pain. Team doctors would prescribe medications, many never kept records of what was provided, and if doctors would not cooperate, Derek, who had the funds found illegal ways to acquire his drugs. Two attempts at rehabilitation failed and what was increasingly clear was that the constant pounding that Derek’s brain experienced led to countless concussions that he was unaware of. He exhibited textbook characteristics of post concussion syndrome-mood swings, depression, loneliness, disorientation, and memory loss. It was clear when he over dosed accidently mixing alcohol and pain killers that had he not died at the age of twenty-nine, that his ensuing years would have witnessed the onset of dementia at a very young age. Derek’s brain was donated to science and the findings are very scary in terms of individuals who have suffered constant blows to the head. Since these blows are cumulative, each concussion, or whiplash movement will create the nausea, headaches, and other symptoms repeatedly. In Derek’s case it is especially sad because according to those close to him, he did not have a mean bone in his body.

Branch has done a service by presenting a wonderful biography, placing it in the context of a national epidemic dealing with brain injuries. Research is an ongoing avocation, but Branch’s book should raise the eyebrows of parents and anyone involved in contact sports, no matter the level, that we must do more to protect the athletes who are involved. If that means raising the curtain that sports officials at all levels have refused to raise, to change some of the rules, especially around fighting and unnecessary violence so be it-I am certain it will not detract from the skill and beauty of the sports involved, but it will save lives and improve the quality of life for athletes after they retire. This book is not your typical sports biography, as a father of a son who played prep school hockey and college lacrosse I wonder how many times he had “his bell rung/” Branch’s book is a wake up call, hopefully the right people will be listening.
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4

Mar 21, 2015

Very good, very absorbing, very sad story about an NHL enforcer and how CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) most likely paid a role in his demise. To me, the really tragic thing was how ineffectual and toothless all the checks and balances that should've helped him turned out to be... and how none of that has changed.
4

Mar 05, 2014

When my son was young, about age 5 or 6, I had this fantasy that he would become a professional hockey player. I even had the visual of the announcers calling his name…”and its Graham Sheldon from Colorado- and there is his mom in the stands…etc etc.” Very cliché. I did enroll him in skating lessons – even at the same rink that Joe Sakic had his kids enrolled. One January I determined he was ready to begin hockey. We took him to the big college rink, we blew about 250$ on used hockey gear, and When my son was young, about age 5 or 6, I had this fantasy that he would become a professional hockey player. I even had the visual of the announcers calling his name…”and its Graham Sheldon from Colorado- and there is his mom in the stands…etc etc.” Very cliché. I did enroll him in skating lessons – even at the same rink that Joe Sakic had his kids enrolled. One January I determined he was ready to begin hockey. We took him to the big college rink, we blew about 250$ on used hockey gear, and my poor son, who only wanted to do what mom wanted, stepped out onto the ice… and valiantly tried to skate the drills but ultimately wound up clinging desperately to the rink wall. This was one of my many bad mommy moments. Ice hockey was not his dream and not even something he enjoyed casually. I transferred him back to regular skate lessons and tried to sell all the gear. Soon we stopped skating altogether. Now he plays tennis.

I preface with this because I feel that this little bump with reality saved us a lot of money and a lot of heartache. After reading John Branch’s account of Derek Boogaard’s short but eventful life as a hockey enforcer I wonder how anyone might think that the life of a professional hockey player might be healthy fulfillment of a childhood fantasy.

Mr. Branch does an excellent job of flushing out hockey history. Turns out fighting was part of the sport from the get go. And Canadians’ are, if not proud of this contribution, very loathe to give it up. The NHL has held onto to the fighting for obvious revenue reasons – however European and Russian leagues do not allow it. Fighting in hockey it turns out creates room for a very peculiar position. This position is one that does not get a lot of ice time, does not need finesse, but thrives mainly on being a menacing presence on the bench – to be unleashed on the opposing team only if necessary. This is called the Enforcer. This is what Derek Boogaard was for the Minnesota Wild and briefly for the New York Rangers.

The author does more than tell the tale of Derek’s demise, brought on mainly by his use and abuse of pain pills, he digs deep into the Boogaards family history in Saskatchewan, Canada. The same parental impulse to get your kid involved in something other than TV -is what brings the Boogaards to the ice rink. It is a way of life for most families in Canada. And the rise to the NHL is on the minds of most young Canadian boys, getting there is grueling and means spending time with teams in cities and/or towns other than your own. There are hockey foster families that host the team players and Derek bounces between many of them. Finally, backed by some believers, and demonstrating a commitment to the sport, Derek is drafted by the Wild.

All this plays out as a typical rag to riches story. What is unfortunate and lingers on with a bad taste, is the amount of unchecked violence that all hockey players, but especially enforcers are subjected to in the name of entertainment. Enforcers, as noted by the author, are far more likely to have substance abuse problems, brain trauma, and dysfunctional home lives, yet they are paid the least by the franchise.

Another angle, one that will most likely have the most impact on the game’s future, is that C.T.E. (chronic trauma encephalopathy)was found to be in Derek’s brain. Much attention has been given to this disease which can only be diagnosed posthumously and it has gained notoriety recently by predominantly being found in many deceased NFL players. The symptoms before death are memory loss, mood swings, impulsive behavior, and addiction. All of which was evident in Derek in his final months. Though most alarming to families of the player with the disease and including Derek’s family, is that the loved one is no longer recognizable as whom they were – they become someone else entirely.

For sports with high impact as part of the game this disease promises to be a game changer. Lawsuits against the NFL and the NHL, accusing the leagues of putting profit before safety, are already in progress. But more damaging is the public perception. Who wants to watch a sport where the player’s future health and happiness are jeopardized by their violent play for the benefit of our entertainment? John Branch has done an excellent job of focusing in on one such life in order to expose the larger problem.
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5

Feb 14, 2015

A distressing and depressing but necessary book to read.

Amazingly, it presents a history of fights in hockey (not fighting, but individual fights with details); the treatments with overuse of prescription pain killers and sleeping aids; the ignoring of pain, damage or concussion; the psychological and social costs to "enforcers" of knowing that each game could bring a fight that ends their careers, health or lives; the alcoholism and drug addictions; the refusal of hockey officials and their A distressing and depressing but necessary book to read.

Amazingly, it presents a history of fights in hockey (not fighting, but individual fights with details); the treatments with overuse of prescription pain killers and sleeping aids; the ignoring of pain, damage or concussion; the psychological and social costs to "enforcers" of knowing that each game could bring a fight that ends their careers, health or lives; the alcoholism and drug addictions; the refusal of hockey officials and their doctors to recognize or diagnose concussions and brain damage...... in a factual form...... without stating the obvious...... Fighting is dangerous and unnecessary in its present form.

The author lets the reader come to this conclusion without giving his own opinion... a sign of an intelligent writer anticipating an intelligent audience.

The book would be tedious because of all the fights that it recounts, except for the fact that it is necessary to see the kind of damage inflicted and the repetitive amount of damage, especially to the skull, brain and head.

Near the end of his life, when Boogaard was asked by a doctor how many concussions he had had, he said 2. Then he was asked how many times he was hit and temporarily saw only black and his answer was hundreds... these were concussions.

Concussions happen because the brain bounces inside the skull. This can happen without the head even striking anything. Helmets do not prevent this kind of movement of the brain inside the skull. Hockey is a game with rapid stops and starts. Being hit repeatedly on the head during a fight is even more damaging.

When his brain was studied after his death, it was found to be in the same state as an elder person with dementia. It was obvious that this was damage caused by multiple occurrences.

Many interesting comments appear in this book.

Fighting has been allowed because it is felt that it allows players to let off steam before worse eruptions of violence occur. There are written and understood rules of fighting; referees do not break up a fight until these limits are reached.

But they stand there and allow faces to be broken (not just noses, but cheek bones, eye sockets, chins, jaw joints, etc.) Vision is damaged, nerves are damaged, a lifetime of pain does not go away even with pain killers. The internal brain damage is worse; death is worst of all.

Players, coaches and officials say that fighting breaks up the momentum of the game.

Boogaard was considered to be the most important player on the team by opposing coaches, not because of his scoring ability, but because the damage he inflicted was so great that the team played differently just to stay away from him.

Fighting continues because the crowds seem to like it. But the crowds are not told the truth about the injuries from fighting. Bad for publicity, I suppose.

Fighting has become so bad that schools were set up to teach children how to survive and succeed in the inevitable fights that would occur in hockey.

There are alternatives proposed to solve these problems.

When people are in control enough to aim punches, they are also in control enough to aim these punches below the head.

The hands of many enforcers are damaged because of using bare hands in a fight. Some hockey players remove their helmets as a courtesy in a fight so that hands are less damaged... but it exposes their skulls and brains to more damage. If helmets are removed in a fight, the fight should be ended.

Enforcers work hard to maintain their popularity with the crowds. The author recounts endless examples of enforcers from each team agreeing when to fight and starting a fight for seemingly no reason. It became a contest to see who would win the "title", often held at center ice..........

What about playing hockey for the sport? It is a skill, it is a science, it is amazing to watch.

But these fights are not part of the hockey game.

And they are not sport.

At least not for Derek's family. The book ends sadly on the note that, after receiving the results of the study of Derek's brain, it would be hard to choose whether Derek would have preferred to die from an overdose of pills and alcohol or to live with the dementia that he was already experiencing.

A choice that should not need to be made if fighting was properly regulated in hockey.

Yes, this book is depressing. But it is eye-opening. And this book needs to be read. ...more
4

Jun 05, 2015

As a child growing up in western Canada, Derek Boogaard stood out from his peers. He was a big kid who was often bullied by his classmates, and singled out by his teachers as a troublemaker whether or not it was deserved. His mother signed him up for junior hockey teams as a way to keep him busy, to meet friends, and to improve his self esteem.

Because of his size and strength, Derek was encouraged by his coaches to become his team’s “enforcer” which meant that he would be involved in fights with As a child growing up in western Canada, Derek Boogaard stood out from his peers. He was a big kid who was often bullied by his classmates, and singled out by his teachers as a troublemaker whether or not it was deserved. His mother signed him up for junior hockey teams as a way to keep him busy, to meet friends, and to improve his self esteem.

Because of his size and strength, Derek was encouraged by his coaches to become his team’s “enforcer” which meant that he would be involved in fights with players on opposing teams. Although he was a shy and kind “gentle giant”, Derek took his job seriously. He set his sights on becoming an enforcer in the NHL. At the age of 23, he realized his dream when, at 6’8” and 270 pounds, he was drafted by the Minnesota Wild. He became one of the league’s top enforcers. Serious injuries and concussions mounted as Derek continued his hockey career and in 2011, at the age of 28, he was found dead in his apartment from an overdose of painkillers and alcohol.

Author John Branch meticulously researched this heartbreaking story, and presents a cautionary tale about the risks involved in playing at the pinnacle of sports which require physical confrontation without regard to the consequences. Even more disturbing is the realization that the violence we witness in these sports is perpetrated for audience appreciation and entertainment.
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5

Oct 09, 2014

I read this book because I went to school with Derek in grades 2-4. I had casually followed his NHL career and was flabbergasted when his death was reported in 2011. I wanted to know more about what led to his death. This book covered everything from his birth, his early life in Saskatchewan, playing hockey in the WHL, and his rise through the NHL. In the afterword of the book, Branch explains how the book came to be and how much time he spent putting it together all with the permission and I read this book because I went to school with Derek in grades 2-4. I had casually followed his NHL career and was flabbergasted when his death was reported in 2011. I wanted to know more about what led to his death. This book covered everything from his birth, his early life in Saskatchewan, playing hockey in the WHL, and his rise through the NHL. In the afterword of the book, Branch explains how the book came to be and how much time he spent putting it together all with the permission and encouragement of Derek's parents. I was floored to learn so much about Derek in this book. In elementary school he got a bad rap because he was kind of a goofball and had a tough reputation through hockey. I always thought he was kind of sweet. I remember going over to his house and playing video games with him. Reading this book obviously brought up a lot of memories, and looking at childhood photos. I was even more sad reading how he struggled with addiction and how people who were supposed to be looking out for him just fed his addiction even more. I hope Derek's family has found peace and comfort with the publication of this book.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has a child in hockey or played hockey as a child themselves, or anyone who has any ties to my hometown, or people who have struggled with addiction or know someone who has. ...more
5

Oct 14, 2014

Derek Boogaard was known as The Boogeyman on ice, his menacing presence enough to frighten the opposing team into playing poorly even before he threw any punches. His record tells a stark story--few points, hardly any goals at all, minutes on the ice overshadowed by minutes in the penalty box. Derek Boogaard was one of the most feared enforcers in the NHL during his brief career, but he didn't have much time to enjoy his success, such as it was--Boogaard only lived to be 28.

This poignant book Derek Boogaard was known as The Boogeyman on ice, his menacing presence enough to frighten the opposing team into playing poorly even before he threw any punches. His record tells a stark story--few points, hardly any goals at all, minutes on the ice overshadowed by minutes in the penalty box. Derek Boogaard was one of the most feared enforcers in the NHL during his brief career, but he didn't have much time to enjoy his success, such as it was--Boogaard only lived to be 28.

This poignant book looks at hockey through a dark lens. Every dollar, every starstruck moment, comes at a steep price for players like Boogaard, who was valued for his size and his fists rather than for his skill, and could only hold onto his position by bleeding for his team, winning more often than not, but suffering more injuries in his 28 years than many athletes suffer in a lifetime. The pain, both physical and emotional, was more than Boogaard could handle without help, and the help he received was never enough.

Read this book for a saddening, sobering look at the toll exacted on professional athletes; for a portrait of a young man trying and failing to live his dream; for a reality check on the sport we love. ...more
5

Aug 10, 2015

Excellent book on a life cut short by CTE and by addiction. Full review is posted here:

http://sportsbookguy.blogspot.com/201...
5

Dec 23, 2016

This is a very well written, honest account of a heart breaking tragedy. Though Derek chose the life of a fighter, I am not sure anyone truly understood the cost. The evolution of sports definitely played a role in the outcome. Derek and his heavyweight foes were and are giants of men, with massive strength and staggering explosiveness. I played a year in the WHL in the same league with Derek and watched him fight in a front row seat. That year of my life was full of anxiety as I quickly This is a very well written, honest account of a heart breaking tragedy. Though Derek chose the life of a fighter, I am not sure anyone truly understood the cost. The evolution of sports definitely played a role in the outcome. Derek and his heavyweight foes were and are giants of men, with massive strength and staggering explosiveness. I played a year in the WHL in the same league with Derek and watched him fight in a front row seat. That year of my life was full of anxiety as I quickly realized I was a fish out of water amongst true gladiators. Hockey is brutal in the professional ranks. The game I grew up loving did not exist in the professional ranks, in my eyes. Street violence and the intent to injure made no sense to me. Derek's story and many others like it that have recently come to light serve as a wake up call and warning to any child pursing professional contact sports. My heart goes out to Derek's family and friends. This story is a very important piece of sports history with lessons for all of us to learn. ...more
4

Jan 31, 2016

One of the saddest stories I've ever read. Will be back later with review.
4

Jul 10, 2014

Changed my whole perspective on what it means to succeed in the NHL.
5

Jul 31, 2014

Such a tragic loss! Boogaard was such a likeable guy! The book was a great overview of Boogaards life, his surprising rise to the NHL, and the contentious debate about the harmful health impediments caused by being a hockey enforcer. This is the perfect book for hockey and Rangers fans.
5

Jul 08, 2014

Head injuries and drug abuse are not problems in just Football or Baseball. Boy on Ice is a cautionary tale for anyone who has a child, parent, sibling, relative, friend or lover who plays a competitive, contact sport.

The life of a professional hockey enforcer is a roller-coaster ride of physical and mental pain and John Branch takes readers on this wild ride as seen through the lens of Derek Boogaard's incredible, and all to short, life.

Highly recommended for hockey/sports fans and anyone who Head injuries and drug abuse are not problems in just Football or Baseball. Boy on Ice is a cautionary tale for anyone who has a child, parent, sibling, relative, friend or lover who plays a competitive, contact sport.

The life of a professional hockey enforcer is a roller-coaster ride of physical and mental pain and John Branch takes readers on this wild ride as seen through the lens of Derek Boogaard's incredible, and all to short, life.

Highly recommended for hockey/sports fans and anyone who loves a great narrative nonfiction book. In Boy On Ice, Branch tells a fascinating but ultimately tragic coming of age story. ...more
4

Jan 20, 2016

This was a very sad and upsetting book, and I thank the author for writing it. So many opportunities to help this innocent man-boy, who was trying to fulfill a dream of playing in the NHL. So many doctors, coaches, his agent, those responsible for the drug abuse monitoring programs, and others implicated in using him as a tool. After all, it was in their best interests to use every bit of his body that they could, because after casting him aside there were so many hockey players who were This was a very sad and upsetting book, and I thank the author for writing it. So many opportunities to help this innocent man-boy, who was trying to fulfill a dream of playing in the NHL. So many doctors, coaches, his agent, those responsible for the drug abuse monitoring programs, and others implicated in using him as a tool. After all, it was in their best interests to use every bit of his body that they could, because after casting him aside there were so many hockey players who were expendable as enforcers waiting to step into his shoes. I hope they do not sleep easily in their knowledge of their responsibility for this young man's death. ...more
4

Oct 15, 2014

Boy on Ice is the story of Hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard. Boogaard started playing hockey as a kid in Canada, and against the odds, made it to the NHL. At his death, he was the enforcer for the New York Rangers and one of the best enforcers playing the game. He was also 28.

Boy on Ice is also the story of a boy in a man's body. Boogaard had incredible insecurities that teams might find a younger player to replace him at any moment. He battled drug and alcohol addiction, and in the end lost. This Boy on Ice is the story of Hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard. Boogaard started playing hockey as a kid in Canada, and against the odds, made it to the NHL. At his death, he was the enforcer for the New York Rangers and one of the best enforcers playing the game. He was also 28.

Boy on Ice is also the story of a boy in a man's body. Boogaard had incredible insecurities that teams might find a younger player to replace him at any moment. He battled drug and alcohol addiction, and in the end lost. This book is very similar to "Blind Side"'s story of the Left Tackle in the NFL. This is the story of the hockey enforcer. Much like the enforcer, this story isn't pretty. At some times it's downright ugly.

This is a compelling biography. Hockey fans will see a new aspect of the game. Fans and non-fans will find a story of a boy who protected others, but couldn't save himself from himself. ...more
4

Feb 17, 2015

An excellent description of the physical and mental stress involved in professional sports. The NFL and the NHL have finally come to grips with effects of sport violence on the long term health of its players. A few years back a biography of Bob Probert was released detailing the violence he endured and the resulting addictions to deal with both the pain and mental fatigue. However, the story of Probert was not nearly as critical nor as blunt as the one told by John Branch on the life of Derek An excellent description of the physical and mental stress involved in professional sports. The NFL and the NHL have finally come to grips with effects of sport violence on the long term health of its players. A few years back a biography of Bob Probert was released detailing the violence he endured and the resulting addictions to deal with both the pain and mental fatigue. However, the story of Probert was not nearly as critical nor as blunt as the one told by John Branch on the life of Derek Boogaard. For one, Probert was one of the last of the old school tough guys, he could fight but also play. By the time Boogaard arrived the position of enforcer was ritualized and required very little in the way of hockey talent. Branch does an excellent job in detailing the story from pond hockey to junior and then professional and each case size and toughness mattered more than talent for Boogaard. In the end the violence gets to him, pain killers become a way of life and it ends with an overdose. A sad ending to the life of a boy who appears to be a gentle giant who only wanted to play hockey and make money. As his brother who still plays and fights said, what else is there? ...more
3

Apr 03, 2016

I think this book is best suited for professional hockey fans.

Generally, on the plus side, the writing is very good and never gets in the way of the story; the book is a quick and easy read; Boogaard is a completely sympathetic figure; and the book gets better as it goes along. More specifically it did a very good job of putting the spotlight on the appalling over-prescribing of prescription drugs to professional hockey players and the league's indifference to the enforcement of its drug abuse I think this book is best suited for professional hockey fans.

Generally, on the plus side, the writing is very good and never gets in the way of the story; the book is a quick and easy read; Boogaard is a completely sympathetic figure; and the book gets better as it goes along. More specifically it did a very good job of putting the spotlight on the appalling over-prescribing of prescription drugs to professional hockey players and the league's indifference to the enforcement of its drug abuse policies; and it highlighted professional hockey's shameful resistance to reducing or eliminating fighting.

The problem is that the story is occasionally monotonous. I may have imagined it but some passages appeared to be repeated verbatim throughout the book. (Maybe the multitudinous accounts of brawling. How many different ways can you say one guy absolutely beat the shit out of the other guy?) The early section on Boogaard's youth is okay but it doesn't resonate. Additionally there seems to be something missing in the storytelling in that Boogaard comes across as very one-dimensional.

The book ultimately addresses the issues of concussions, sub-concussive head injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) but its handling pales in comparison to the very good League of Denial (by Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru). (League of Denial is a far better book and I would recommend it to anyone regardless of whether they're a sports fan or not.) ...more
4

Dec 04, 2014

When Derek Boogaard died so tragically in 2011, it was splashed across headlines and the tragedy of it seeped into the pores of hockey fans around the US & Canada. This book goes beyond the headlines and looks at Derek’s life, his rise through the hockey ranks, and his struggles with the pain that came from being a professional hockey player.

To say this is a heart-wrenching story, well, it just doesn’t say it enough. My heart ached for this man who was still so much a boy. He struggled When Derek Boogaard died so tragically in 2011, it was splashed across headlines and the tragedy of it seeped into the pores of hockey fans around the US & Canada. This book goes beyond the headlines and looks at Derek’s life, his rise through the hockey ranks, and his struggles with the pain that came from being a professional hockey player.

To say this is a heart-wrenching story, well, it just doesn’t say it enough. My heart ached for this man who was still so much a boy. He struggled mightily to find a place and some comfort when he wasn’t on the ice; he never found it.

As a hockey fan who, despite having followed the game for at least a dozen years, still considers herself “learning the game,” this book provided amazing insight into the road the players take to make it to the NHL as well as what they go through when they get there. The day I finished this book, I went to a San Jose Sharks game that night – and watched the game with fresh eyes. With every hit, I remembered words from Boy on Ice and thought of Boogaard’s mangled and scarred hands and the agony he endured from taking punches as an enforcer.

I always felt like the NHL was forward-thinking when it came to head-injuries and CTE. I hope the league continues to be a leader in head-injury treatment. What I’d really like to see? Better control of the distribution of the medication that the players obviously need but that seems to be given out like candy rather than like the addictive drugs they are. I understand that controlling a player’s acquisition of pills illegally is much harder but I was appalled at how easily Boogaard got pills legally.

I hope I’m a better fan for having read the book; I feel like I am. I wish the Boogaard family peace – and thank you for sharing your son & his talents with us hockey fans.
...more
0

Mar 10, 2015

No matter how you choose to look at it, BOY ON ICE is an extraordinarily sad book. Any time you have the accidental death of a 28-year-old man, you will have a tale of sorrow, but it is particularly more poignant given the struggles he had as a boy trying to make his way in the hockey world.

Derek Boogaard's tale is not one of great skill and ready-made success. Instead, his is the story of the shy giant, the oversized boy who sought acceptance, who took on the role of enforcer because coaches No matter how you choose to look at it, BOY ON ICE is an extraordinarily sad book. Any time you have the accidental death of a 28-year-old man, you will have a tale of sorrow, but it is particularly more poignant given the struggles he had as a boy trying to make his way in the hockey world.

Derek Boogaard's tale is not one of great skill and ready-made success. Instead, his is the story of the shy giant, the oversized boy who sought acceptance, who took on the role of enforcer because coaches liked his size. He was intimidating on the ice, but reserved and kind off it. Unlike most enforcers, he did not resort to showmanship or flash. He merely did his job and took his licks. That he made it to the NHL at all was a surprise to everyone, though he worked hard to make that dream a reality. The toll it took and the price it made him pay are far too tragic.

John Branch tells the life of Derek Boogaard with smooth and factual precision, which you would expect from a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter. Where he really brings depth is in the interwoven examination of the toll the enforcer role takes on players --- physically and mentally --- and he does so without entering into a preachy realm that could become a turnoff to certain readers given the hot-button issue of fighting in hockey.

Instead, Branch relies on analysis of Boogaard's own medical timeline: the constant injuries to the hands that are never allowed to heal, the shoulder and back pains, the repeated broken noses, the lost teeth, the headaches and concussions...and the medications prescribed in extraordinary volumes to keep the pain at bay. By no means was Boogaard an isolated case. All those who made their living with their fists seemed to share this same path, including teammate Todd Fedoruk and feared heavyweight Georges Laraque.

And, in many ways, Branch shines a light on the failures of the team medical community, as well as the NHL substance abuse program: multiple doctors who did not share information and all prescribed high doses of medication simultaneously, feeding his addiction; doctors giving him some of the medication he was barred from using during his rehabilitation; and repeated drug test failures that resulted in no further action by the program or the teams.

If I had one quibble with BOY ON ICE, it was in Branch using Boogaard's notes and memories and repeatedly pointing out his misspellings. After a time it felt more like cheap potshots being taken at the hulking boy who never finished high school rather than using those notes for what their purpose was: to give Boogaard the only direct involvement he could have in his own story. Branch easily could have cleaned up those passages and explained in an author's note that Boogaard’s spelling was suspect and was corrected for purposes of the textual presentation.

The timeliness of the book is twofold. For one, the NHL season has just kicked off once again, and so hulking giants like Boogaard will take to the ice and seek each other out, continuing the tradition of toughness that he found himself following during his time in the league. And it comes a mere month after the arrest of two individuals connected with Boogaard's death through the supplying of the powerful drugs he so desperately needed.

The abuse of prescription medications, some illegally obtained off the street, the failed rehab stints in California, the alcohol consumption, and the postmortem severe CTE diagnosis all bring a heartwarming against-the-odds success story to a crashing halt. It is the Icarus myth made real, and all the more sad when you consider that so many people saw Boogaard spiraling and changing. Tragically, none of their help or love was enough to save him from himself. ...more
3

Feb 05, 2019

I was bothered by the helmet on the front cover that had a half shield because he never wore a halfer.
4

May 21, 2018

It is a heartbreaking read, but it is also well-researched, well-written and completely worth your time.
4

If economics is the dismal science, then reading John Branch’s brilliantly titled Boy on Ice leaves little doubt that professional hockey is the dismal sport. In the Canadian tradition, Derek Boogaard ...Full Review
5

Oct 31, 2019

(Review first published in Shelf Awareness)

On the surface, Derek Boogaard's life is a tragic story of a young man from a small town who found fame in the NHL but then died from an addiction. In the hands of journalist John Branch, Boogaard's rise and fall reveals much more: a young man with a traumatic brain injury and a sports industry with no interest in the welfare of its players.

The gentle young Boogaard lacked grace and speed, and he was even more awkward on ice skates. But his towering (Review first published in Shelf Awareness)

On the surface, Derek Boogaard's life is a tragic story of a young man from a small town who found fame in the NHL but then died from an addiction. In the hands of journalist John Branch, Boogaard's rise and fall reveals much more: a young man with a traumatic brain injury and a sports industry with no interest in the welfare of its players.

The gentle young Boogaard lacked grace and speed, and he was even more awkward on ice skates. But his towering body fit the profile of a fighter, and scouts saw in him an animal to be shaped into a goon. From his stint in the minor leagues to playing for the New York Rangers, Boogaard learned he was disposable unless he fulfilled his role as an enforcer; violent acts were considered guardianship of your teammates. The worst penalty for the brutal attacks he gave (and received) was a temporary suspension.

The NHL had not yet officially associated this kind of violent play with a degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a condition caused by successive concussions. However, Boogaard's personality began to change over time. He became moody and violent off the ice. Eventually, at age 28, alcohol abuse and the drugs prescribed to him by hockey league doctors (despite Boogaard's previous issues with addiction) led to his death in 2011.

Branch's emotionally charged, empathetic portrait allows readers to see past Boogaard's thug persona cultivated by the NHL to reveal a boy who just wanted to play hockey and be liked by his friends. ...more
4

Oct 11, 2019

Overall the book was really good. It was nice to see a book written about Derek's childhood and career in the NHL. As a hockey player myself, I can connect with getting up early for those games on Saturday as a kid or trips to the rink for practice which made the book feel relatable and more understanding. It was nice to read a book that lets you escape school and dive deep into something you have a passion for which is hockey. It was also really interesting to see the perspective of Derek Overall the book was really good. It was nice to see a book written about Derek's childhood and career in the NHL. As a hockey player myself, I can connect with getting up early for those games on Saturday as a kid or trips to the rink for practice which made the book feel relatable and more understanding. It was nice to read a book that lets you escape school and dive deep into something you have a passion for which is hockey. It was also really interesting to see the perspective of Derek throughout his journey to get to the NHL which is, in essence, a dream for any kid who loves the game of hockey. Showing the work it took Derek to get to the NHL and the mental trauma and injuries he suffered from it was amazing. I feel its important this book was written because the story of Derek Boogaard is tragic, but important for people to see to better understand him as a person and a human being and not just an animal that puts people in the hospital. The story of Derek is tragic that due to his severe injuries he would get led down a dark path of drug abuse that would one day kill him. By telling his story it opened the door to hockey players (enforcers) suffering from painkiller addictions. After Derek died cases were showing up left and right of players that had painkiller problems/ addictions. Derek's death clued in everyone else as to the problems occurring with Derek and other enforcers in the league. ...more

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