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Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  1,153 ratings  ·  160 reviews

The much-anticipated debut from the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times reporter, Boy on Ice is a moving human story and behind-the-scenes account of a life lived in the glare of sporting fame.

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
Kindle Edition, 384 pages
Published October 1st 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Heidi The Reader
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
Steven Z.
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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.
Karen A.
Mar 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brain, biography, health
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
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
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Claire Humphrey
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book on a life cut short by CTE and by addiction. Full review is posted here:
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is a heartbreaking read, but it is also well-researched, well-written and completely worth your time.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 69-books
I was bothered by the helmet on the front cover that had a half shield because he never wore a halfer.
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
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
David Quinn
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
H Wesselius
Feb 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Andy Doyle
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Changed my whole perspective on what it means to succeed in the NHL.
One of the saddest stories I've ever read. Will be back later with review.
Apr 19, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The way this book was written bothered me. The author is so completely slanted that it was annoying/ difficult to read. At one point, the mom is quoted as saying ‘the game killed her son’.

But the 20+ pills he took a day was unrelated?

The author and Boogaard family are obviously against fighting in hockey. I follow hockey and grew up playing but I only knew of the ‘Boogeyman’. I didn’t have an opinion really but thought good things about him. This book kinda made me change my opinion. He was an
Iza October
Oct 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(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
Cory Wolfe
3.5 stars. Boy on Ice unearths a disturbing case of medical mismanagement (including prescription-happy team doctors) that contributed to a vulnerable young man's death. Author John Branch captures the pressures and diminishing returns of a hockey enforcer's life. It's a can't-win career and in a sad end, Derek Boogaard was set up to lose no matter how many times he won on the ice.

It's a powerful read but a few things about the author's approach bothered me... He explains that he wants to avoid
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jim C
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the life story about Derek Boogaard. Derek was a player for the National Hockey League and he passed away during his playing career. His role while he was on the ice was an enforcer which means he would protect his teammates from players who gave cheap hits and sometimes he would have to fight.

Derek Boogard wasn't a household name like other players but if you ever watched a game he was in, you would not miss him. He was a man among men on the ice as he was listed as being 6'7" and over
William Flynn
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The novel Boy on Ice in my opinion was a very good book. If you are a hockey player you would very much like this book. Its about a man named Derek Boogaard who grew up in a small town of Saskatchewan Canada. Derek was a beastly boy who loved the game of hockey, but he wasnt good at a lot of aspects in the game. He could not shoot, skate, or pass the puck well, but one very good aspect Derek had that gave him a tremendous advantage when playing the sport was his size. Derek was the biggest ...more
Andrew Downing
Dec 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, nonfiction, sports
This account of a man physically and mentally broken down by hockey was deeply affecting. Branch does a really good job of building a sympathetic portrait of Boogaard, who really didn't know what to do with his life besides play hockey and the only avenue for doing that seemed to be through his fists. He also shed a lot of light on the history of fighting in hockey and the treatment of enforcers, who are basically just human punching bags for their team.

I did think it was interesting that the
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a big fan of the game of hockey, but I have never been comfortable with the fighting aspect. This book details its development over the years, especially with regard to the role of the "enforcer," and raises many legitimate questions about the possible connection between repeated concussions and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), and about the role and responsibility of the hockey world going forward. I did think that the continuous blow-by-blow accounts of Derek Boogaard's various ...more
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John Branch is a reporter for the New York Times. His “Snow Fall” won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. He lives near San Francisco.
“Derek Boogaard did not have to fight. This time, all he had to do was skate onto the ice. He could keep his thickly padded gloves on his hands, rather than theatrically flick them aside. he did not have to curl his mangled fingers into fists and raise them with malicious intent. Instead of dropping his stick, he could hold on to it with two hands as if he intended to scramble for the puck and shoot it into the net, just like all the other players, just as did as a boy.” 0 likes
“Derek’s center of gravity rested low, in his thick thighs and massive seat, more like a speed skater or a cyclist than a hockey star.” 0 likes
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