Grit. Fortitude. Perseverance in the face of adversity.
If one were asked to define an ideal hockey player, the above traits would all make it into the equation fairly early on. Which means that Brock Boeser must be one heck of a hockey player.
But then again, fans of the Vancouver Canucks already knew that.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Boeser would miss the next three-to-four weeks after undergoing hand surgery, the result of an injury apparently sustained during practice on Day Three of Training Camp.
It’s disappointing news, bordering on devastating, for a player who fans and teammates alike were excited to see shake off a difficult 2021/22 campaign and get back to his scoring ways of old.
It’s also not exactly news when it comes to Boeser, a player who really can’t ever seem to catch a break.
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Boeser’s brushes with misfortune and tragedy go back before his time with the Canucks, but our brief history is still going to start with his NHL debut.
Flash back to the year 2017. Fresh off an excellent stint in the NCAA, Boeser signed with the Canucks for the final nine games of the 2016/17 season and put up four goals and an assist. The fanbase was buzzing, and so was the Calder Trophy hype for Boeser the following year.
But the 2017/18 campaign did not start off nearly as ideally. First and foremost, Boeser was inexplicably healthy scratched for the first two games of the season.
He’d be in the lineup for just over two weeks before hurting his foot, suffering in a contusion that kept him out for a few games.
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This was Boeser’s first injury in a Canuck uniform, and although it wasn’t a particularly serious one, it did set the tone for the sort of ailments that would come to define much of Boeser’s early career with the Canucks. It’s hard to call him injury-prone when so many of his injuries are just random occurrences that could feasibly happen to anyone.
And yet, they continued to happen to Brock Boeser.
It was the feet again in mid-December of 2017, after Boeser blocked a shot and went down hard. A break was feared, but after an MRI, Boeser was diagnosed with a “mere” bone bruise. In this rare instance, Boeser didn’t miss any time.
A hand injury followed in February, and still Boeser pushed through. By the March, he was very much in the running for the Calder Trophy as rookie-of-the-year, but then his rookie campaign ended in unpredictable and violent fashion.
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Boeser attempted to throw a hit on Cal Clutterbuck near the benches, and was instead bounced off and into an open gate, spine-first. Boeser suffered a non-displaced fracture of his back, and his first full NHL season was over, just like that.
Mathew Barzal ended up with the Calder.
Boeser worked hard to rehab his back all summer, and was ready in time for Training Camp 2018. Or so it seemed. A couple of weeks into the regular season, Boeser injured his groin, and that lingering issue would go on to have him in and out of the lineup until early-November, when it was decided that he needed to see a specialist.
He wouldn’t return to play until the end of the month.
Boeser managed to stay mostly healthy for the rest of the season, helping his new linemate Elias Pettersson achieve the Calder Trophy that he could not.
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Was his bad luck finally behind him?
Of course not. In September of 2019, Boeser took an ugly hit from Chris Tierney in early preseason action and suffered a concussion. This time, he recovered quickly, got back on the ice before the regular season opener, and even got off to a hot start.
He made it four months past that until a rib injury in February of 2020 that was supposed to keep him out for up to eight weeks. Instead, Boeser toughed it out and made it back by March 10…one game before the league shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world.
Boeser made it through three rounds of the playoffs later that year without any significant injury, and, for a time, it seemed as though his luck had turned. The 2020/21 season passed without much incident, and Boeser even wound up leading the team in scoring, a testament to what he can do when the odds aren’t stacked against him.
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Meanwhile, the odds were stacking again.
An undisclosed injury, occurring during the preseason, kept Boeser out of the first few games of the 2021/22 season. Two months later, he contracted COVID, losing several games and a bunch of weight through late December into early January. Three months after that, Boeser had another undisclosed upper body injury that kept him out for two weeks in April. Boeser made it back for the final seven games of the season, but the Canucks were out of the playoffs by that point.
Which brings us to the present day, and Boeser’s current hand injury. For those keeping score at home, that’s two years with a preseason injury in a row for Boeser, and injuries in either September or October for five of the past six years.
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All occurring in different parts of the body which, again, goes against the whole “injury-prone” notion.
Put differently, Boeser has been lucky enough to start a season without an injury only once in his time with the Vancouver Canucks thus far.
And, of course, anyone who has followed his story over the past few seasons knows that the injuries have often been the least of Boeser’s worries.
Brock’s late father, Duke, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease back in 2010, when Brock was just 13 years old. Two years after, he suffered a brain injury in a car accident.
In the midst of all that, a 2014 accident occurred back home while Boeser was overseas playing in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. Four of his best friends were injured, with one of them passing away from his injuries. Boeser would dedicate his burgeoning career to the loss.
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In 2017, Duke was diagnosed with lung cancer and beat it, only to see it return in the summer of 2019. A massive heart attack followed, during which Laurie Boeser had to perform life-saving CPR. Duke’s health complications continued to mount.
It made for an exceedingly difficult decade for the family, and perhaps none more so than Boeser, the son who had to move away from home to begin his hockey career as all this unfolded. And no season would be more heart-rending for Boeser than the 2021/22 campaign, during which Duke’s health continued to deteriorate until the point at which the end became inevitable.
That dark cloud hung over Boeser for the entire season. At the Canucks’ year-end media availability, an emotional Boeser opened up about Duke’s ongoing dementia, and the inconceivable experience of watching the man who raised him slowly fade away. It wasn’t all bad, of course, and Boeser also spoke with gratitude about all those final moments he was able to share with his father. But those didn’t make the situation any less tragic.
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Duke Boeser passed away at the age of 61 on May 27, 2022, and Brock was fortunate enough to get to say his goodbyes. As painful as his loss no doubt was, it at the very least marked the closing of an impossible chapter in the lives of the Boeser family.
Coming into the 2022/23 campaign, Boeser again opened up, this time about the process of moving on. He spoke excitedly about being able to shift his focus back to hockey on a more ongoing basis. He talked about bringing Laurie on the road as often as possible.
The hand injury, then, is doubly-frustrating. The timing could not be worse, nor could the player suffering from the injury be any less deserving of further bad luck.
There’s definitely an impulse for fans to get really annoyed here on Boeser’s behalf. But on that note, we’d like to advise our readers to take a page out of Brock’s book, and try to look on the bright side.
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Through endless injuries, through illness, and through unspeakable personal strife, Boeser has never lost that positive charm that made him an instant fan favourite in Vancouver. You’ll never catch him complaining about his circumstances, no matter how dire, and you’ll never hear him expressing anything even approaching a “woe is me” outlook.
Each and every time Boeser has been asked to speak about the difficulties he’s experienced, he’s spoken with optimism. The focus is still on the gratitude that he feels for being an NHL player, and for being brought up the way that he was. He’s had every opportunity to grow bitter and resentful, and yet he has not. He’s still the same person who warmed hearts as a teenager by taking a young woman with disabilities to her prom. He’s still the same player who made sure to score a game-winning goal the first time his parents got to see him in the NHL.
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He’s still got that winning smile on his face, and when he returns to the lineup later on in October, we imagine it will still be there.
If life hasn’t defeated Boeser’s good nature already, it never will.