Ten years ago this month, a popular Rangers singer, considered by some to be the toughest man and the most feared fighter in the NHL, died alone in his apartment from an accidental overdose of painkillers and alcohol.
This man, Derek Bougard, 28, was later diagnosed with a severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by multiple blows to the head.
Bougaard’s death came less than a year after the death of Bob Probert, a favorite rough throat of the Detroit Red Wings. The list of players who died before the age of 50, who were later discovered by CTE, grew rapidly: Rick Ripien, Wade Belack, Steve Montador and Todd Ewan among them. Unspoken NHL survivors disappear in middle age to fight their demons alone.
It was an old-school spectacle greeted with scattered bits of disgust, nostalgia, and excitement. Vigilance justice is part of hockey history, and NHL Commissioner Gary Batman never seemed interested in removing it from the game. A “thermostat” is needed, he called it.
Wednesday’s fight, in a game that included 141 penalty minutes, was sparked two nights earlier by a pair of ugly acts of violence that the NHL addressed with a $ 5,000 fine against a Capitals player.
Rangers issued a sharp protest on Tuesday, and on Thursday were fined $ 250,000 for “humiliating” a league leader in charge of player safety. In hockey, obviously, you get $ 5,000 for rough, but $ 250,000 for humiliating.
There are two ways to look at it. First is what he writes about the game and its priorities. The other is to worry about Tom Wilson, the instigator in this episode, playing a role that hockey honors but often doesn’t end well.
“You’d think we’d learn or someone would learn,” said Len Bugaard, Derek’s father, from his home in Nova Scotia. “It’s an insult to what we’ve been through over the years.”
Jodi Bougaard, Len’s wife and Derek’s stepmother, said Bougaards are among those who unfortunately push their children into the violent aspects of hockey without being aware of the long-term consequences.
“What bothers me now is that everyone knows better,” she said.
The fight in hockey is not as widespread as before, perhaps to the disappointment of aging traditionalists. By the time Probert and Bugard died, about 40 percent of NHL games involved at least one battle. That number has dropped by more than half, without much contribution from the league. The NHL sees it as a natural evolution, happily pointing out the fading of battles without doing much to push him further inside the game.
The era of one-dimensional coercion is largely in the past. Wilson, 6 feet-4 and 220 pounds, is a little behind. In his late teens, in his first two seasons of junior hockey, he scored just 12 goals in the regular season. But he had 212 penalty minutes, a combination impressive enough to make him a first-round pick in 2012, ranked 16th by all in Washington.
Wilson, 27, has become a credible insulting threat, but he is not against aggressive actions.
He was eliminated for 14 games for such a game in 2018. In March, Wilson smashed the face of Boston defender Brandon Carlo in the glass. Wilson was eliminated for seven games. The injured Carlo returned to the squad on Tuesday after missing almost two months.
The latest dispute with Wilson began Monday night in Madison Square Garden. After the puck stopped and the bodies clogged the front of the Capitals door, Wilson began punching the fallen Pavel Buhnevich in the back of the head. Some pulled Wilson and others jumped into the fight. Wilson threw more blows, then dragged Artemi Panarin from Rangers, hit him and smashed his face in the ice. Wilson smiled and bent into the penalty area.
Rangers, angered that some code had been broken, were outraged when the league fined Wilson $ 5,000 on Tuesday, but without stopping. The team issued a statement saying NHL Vice President George Paros, a former executive who heads the player safety department, was “unfit to continue in his current role.”
Coincidentally, the teams met again on Wednesday in the garden. By the time the puck was released to start the game, three rangers and three capitals had paired up and traded punches – a “staged” battle, one that most levels of hockey have tried to kill. There is more honor or necessity in the battles that burn from the height of the game than from those planned or planned, thinking continues.
The necessary penalties were assessed and the game continued. Wilson appeared on the ice within a minute to be booed by fans, and was quickly answered by Brendan Smith of the Rangers.
On the Hockey Fights website, which chronicles and celebrates the random show, fans voted on who won and lost.
The NHL has never had an incentive to take battles out of hockey. It remains the only major team sport in which players can punch each other in the face, even go around as boxers or start a fight, and the penalty is usually five minutes in the penalty area, not a fine or suspension.
The NHL, like the NFL, has slowly adopted stricter rules against outright head-on attempts. It was never said, Dryden insisted, that any blow to the head should be punished. “No blows to the head, no excuses,” he wrote in an open letter to Bettman.
The easiest blows to eliminate would come from battles, but Batman sees fighting as a way out to control more violent tendencies, like a tired parent sending excited children out to play to release energy. This is also an approach considered unnecessary in all other sports.
Len and Jody Bougaard sometimes attend mid-league youth matches with players between the ages of 18 and 20 in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. A fight broke out at a recent game. Officials backed away as the boys traded punch after punch, Boogaards said.
The Yarmouth player eventually came out of the ice, his face visibly flushed and pleasant, Len Bougaard said. The fans stood and cheered.
“I think Len and I were the only people in the arena who were completely disgusted,” said Jody Bougaard.
The Boogaards did not see the melee on Wednesday in the arena where their son was playing. They stopped watching the NHL 10 years ago this month.