By Shane Frederick
MANKATO — Jeremy Spurgin cradled a neatly folded No. 24 Minnesota Wild jersey in his arms Wednesday as he stood in line to get an autograph from his favorite hockey player, the guy whose last name is also stitched across the back of the sweater.
“I bought it last season,” Spurgin, a New Ulm resident, said of the jersey, “Because he’s ‘Boogey.’”
Boogey is Derek Boogaard, the Wild’s 6-foot-7 enforcer, fighter and one of the National Hockey League’s toughest tough guys.
He’s also become one of Minnesota’s most popular players, rivaling the team’s offensive powers and string of star goaltenders.
Boogaard dropping his gloves stirs as much commotion in the Xcel Energy Center as a Marian Gaborik breakaway or a Brian Rolston slap shot, fans said.
“He’s a fan favorite,” said Spurgin, who joined a few hundred fans during the Wild’s Wells Fargo Road Tour stop. “He epitomizes the Minnesota mentality: Fight to the end, keep going and work hard.”
In the All Seasons Arena parking lot Wednesday, there seemed to be little debate as to whether fighting has a place in hockey.
Boogaard, who had no goals and one assist but 120 penalty minutes in 48 games last season, believes fighting’s important for both his teammates and his fans.
“That’s my game,” the two-year veteran said. “That’s what I’ve been my whole life.”
Wild forward Mark Parrish, who was also on the Road Tour, said he appreciates Boogaard both on and off the ice.
“This is the safest I’ve ever felt being on the road,” said Parrish, the Bloomington native and former St. Cloud State player. “I can do or say anything I want right now.”
Parrish signed with the Wild last July and said he appreciates how much more fans in his home state understand hockey than fans did during his stops in Florida, New York and Los Angeles.
That includes their view of Boogaard and fighting.
“There’s a big battle about fighting,” Parrish said. “I think people who don’t think fighting belongs aren’t watching. There’s entertainment value, and there’s policing the game.”
Said Spurgin: “That’s part of hockey. It has to be part of hockey.”
Tyler Schmiesing, a 12-year-old fan from New Ulm, said he likes Gaborik but Boogaard is his favorite.
“I like the way he runs up to people and completely levels them,” said Schmiesing, who wore a Boogaard T-shirt and had a No. 24 jersey for him to sign. “I like how he gets in all kinds of fights and usually wins.”
Don’t expect fighting to go away anytime soon, Boogaard said.
The Wild were knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the rough and rugged Anaheim Ducks, who also went on to capture the NHL championship.
“This year, coming up, you’re going to see a lot more physical teams, just because Anaheim did so well,” he said.
It sounds like a more than a few Wild fans will be ready for it.