‘Family is more important than hockey’

On the day Brock Boeser’s National Hockey League career began in 2017, Duke Boeser was in the Vancouver Canucks locker room reading the roster card as his son tried not to cry in front of his new teammates .

On the day Duke’s life ended, May 27, 2022, Brock was with him again.

Twelve years after the arrival of Parkinson’s disease was only the first attack in an unrelenting wave of challenges that would include brain damage suffered in a car accident, cancer, heart attack and dementia, the battle for Duke Boeser’s life ended at his home in Burnsville, Minnesota

He was 61 years old. Brock is 25 years old, he is still far too young to lose his father.

Overwhelmed with emotion after spending most of the 2021-22 season away from his father, unable to care for him or support his remarkable mother Laurie in person, Brock only managed a few words when he was asked about Duke at the end of the Canucks’ year. media availability at Rogers Arena on May 1.

“He’s not doing well,” Boeser said. “He has quite severe dementia at the moment. This is the beginning and it went rather badly this year. And that really hit me hard.

It was the heartbreaking burden Brock carried with him through a tough season.

He told a few reporters who cover the team closely that his father’s deteriorating health was often on his mind. Of course it would. But he didn’t want to talk about it publicly while the Canucks were still playing games.

Since Brock’s draft day in 2015, he and Laurie Boeser were open about the challenges Duke and the family faced.

Laurie, who worked two and sometimes three jobs to raise Brock and his sister Jessica — they have an older brother, Paul — when Duke became unable to work, wanted other families who might struggle to find strength and hope and believe that they, too, could last and triumph.

That’s what Boeser’s NHL career has been: a triumph for his family.

Thirteen-year-old when his father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Brock said he was shaped by the challenges he encountered. When he was 17, a year before the Canucks drafted him 23rd overall in the United States Hockey League, Boeser lost a close friend, Ty Alyea, in a car accident in Minnesota. Brock had left to play for the USA Under-18 team in Europe. Another close friend, Cole Borchardt, suffered permanent injuries in the crash.

Had he been home, Boeser believes he would have been in the Jeep with his friends when it rolled over during a summer outing to the lake.

“I’m not going to lie; it’s been a challenge,” Laurie Boeser told us in 2017 after Brock scored in his NHL debut — at Minnesota against the Wild. “But you know, you’re just doing what you have to do for your family.

“Brock had life scenarios where he had to be older than I wanted him to be. He had a certain maturity anyway, but then he had to go through some of these things at a very young age. When you have experiences like that, you can’t help but grow as you deal with them.

On August 6, 2020, in the only hockey game he is likely to play on the anniversary of his pal’s death, Brock scored for the Canucks in a playoff victory in the Edmonton bubble. . Of course, against Minnesota.

“I’m not saying hockey isn’t important, it’s important,” Boeser told Sportsnet earlier that year. “I want to win and I want to make the playoffs, and the game has given me so much already. But life… there’s so much more to hockey. Family is more important than hockey.

Of Duke, Brock said: “He was never a crazy parent or anything, he was just a quiet dad who watched games. I just remember growing up I was sitting on his knees on the recliner in the family room and we would watch the Wild play, or varsity hockey or whatever. He would come skate outside with us. After Parkinson’s came on, he had to quit skating. But those are some of the memories I have of him as a kid.

It’s the memories that Brock will carry the rest of his life that will need to sustain him. Anyone who saw his press conference four weeks ago could see Boeser’s anguish over his dying father. And remembering this, it is now impossible not to feel his loss and know his grief.

Thank goodness he had those May days to be with his dad and his family, to be just a son, not a hockey player, and to share the burden of Duke’s final weeks. Saying goodbye to a man who gave his wife and children and the people who loved him a decade longer than he could have.

Knowing the Boeser story and how it represented the sacrifices so many families make to raise their children, it was former Canucks coach Willie Desjardins who invited Duke and Laurie Boeser to read the lineup card before the Brock’s first NHL game on March 25, 2017.

Desjardins called it “a moment bigger than hockey.” There were way too many for Brock.

“And starting on the right wing,” Duke Boeser said that day in the locker room, “I can’t believe it, Brock Boeser.”

And then everyone clapped. Like it should be.

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