Boogaard a student in all areas of the game

Derek Boogaard is used to standing at center ice with thousands on their feet screaming his name. However, the Aeros enforcer, nicknamed The Boogeyman, recently found himself in the middle of the rink with a slight variation — without a dance partner.

Boogaard, who had one goal in 33 games in 2002-03 with ECHL Louisiana and is without a goal in 52 games with the Aeros, had 7,084 sets of eyes on him and no one else on March 6 when he was awarded a penalty shot midway through the third period of a 5-0 blowout win over Utah. Boogaard was hauled down from behind on a breakaway and his team up four goals.

The Grizzlies’ Jason Bacashihua robbed Boogaard of a goal — and likely a riot in the stands — by gloving aside the backhand attempt of the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Boogaard. It was nothing new to Bacashihua, who is 6-for-6 in his two-year career on penalty shots, including all five attempts this season.

“I thought it was good that I actually got a good shot off instead of fumbling it off into the corner,” Boogaard said with a laugh after the game.

Several days later, Boogaard still remembers the moment vividly.

“It was pretty neat how it went,” he said. “(Head coach Todd McLellan) asked me if I wanted a timeout but I definitely would have fumbled it then. It was pretty exciting to see and hear (the fans) wanting me to score.”

Boogaard has even more reasons to score now. After the penalty shot, an anonymous donor has vowed $1,000 to Sunshine Kids, an organization which helps kids with cancer, if Boogaard scored either this past Monday or this Friday at home against San Antonio, or $500 for a Boogaard goal in any game the rest of the season. A separate donor is giving $100 per Mark Cullen goal and $50 per Cullen assist to the charity. Boogaard got an assist on Dan Cavanaugh‘s goal with nine seconds left Monday, a tally that Boogaard nearly put in himself.

The penalty shot was one of many 2003-04 highlights for the 21-year-old who a year ago wasn’t even sure he’d still be in the pro game.

Boogaard was a fighter — and not much else — while playing for three junior teams in five seasons. He tallied just three goals, but amassed 670 penalty minutes in 174 games. The Minnesota Wild saw enough in his grit and size to draft him in the seventh round in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

Boogaard was convinced to turn pro midway through the 2002-03 season when he was having troubles in WHL Medicine Hat. He signed an ECHL contract with the Louisiana IceGators.

“He spent the first year in Louisiana figuring out if he really wanted to play and to gain the work ethic he needed,” said McLellan. “There is no room in the game anymore for a player to just bring one thing to the table.”

It is the work ethic, along with confidence and ice time, that has led for Boogaard to be a viable member of the team. He has averaged 10 minutes of ice time per game in the last two months.

“When we sat down and talked about Derek at the beginning of the season, we knew we had to teach him and mold him,” said McLellan. “He’s really buying into it. It’s not just about getting into fisticuffs and taking bad penalties. He allows us to trust him. We’ve been able to help him develop his hockey skills.”

Boogaard’s improved play (two assists in the last four games and ice time in some important situations) can be attributed to one thing in particular, Boogaard says — confidence.

“The coaches have helped me out during practice and after with extra drills,” said Boogaard. “A lot of it is me just growing up and being more mature. I listen more now.”

For McLellan, the added ice time is his way of rewarding Boogaard for hard work.

“He is playing 10 minutes a night,” said McLellan. “You don’t see him on the penalty kill but we’re not afraid to put him out there on the power play. A lot of it is based on the reward factor. He’s a guy who does a lot of dirty work for his teammates and gets them chances. You reward him for play like that.”

This is all something no one ever bothered to work on with Boogaard, according to McLellan.

“The unfortunate thing is in juniors he was shipped around to so many different places and no one took any time to develop his hockey skills,” he said. “He was in a pugilist role. They just sent him out there to fight. It’s probably the wrong way to develop a player even in that role.

“It would be out of my element to teach him how to be a combatant,” said McLellan. “He’s a student of the game though in all areas. He handles himself very well.”

With 13 games left in the regular season, Boogaard has 207 penalty minutes, second among AHL rookies and the most for an Aero since the team’s move to the AHL in 2001-02.

There’s another Boogaard moving his way through the western Canada ranks — younger brother Aaron, who is draft-eligible this year. Aaron is smaller, though still a hulking 6-foot-3 and 215-pound teenager who sometimes has trouble getting outside his older brother’s giant shadow. Aaron has also been shipped from team to team, mostly because many coaches believe that because of his last name, he can have only one role.

“Right now it’s a gray area in juniors,” said the elder Boogaard. “There are some really good coaches and some bad. They try to play a head game. In Calgary they threw him out there for a couple of shifts and they wanted him to fight. But he doesn’t want to do what I do. I just tell him to hang in there and be more consistent. You can’t have an off night, come back and play well, then have an off night again. You’ve got to get better in each game.”