After challenges on and off ice, Canucks’ Boeser has ‘a lot to prove’

VANCOUVER — Things got so emotional for Brock Boeser last spring when he tried to play for the Vancouver Canucks while his father slipped home in Minnesota that the winger actually felt some mental relief when he retired in April injured at the elbow.

“It’s crazy to say that out loud,” Boeser said in a phone call Saturday from Wisconsin, where he was visiting his grandmother. “There were times when I was just mentally exhausted and drained, and I felt that a lot. Just all the stress. It sounds really messed up, but when I hurt myself again, I won’t lie, it was almost (relief) because I was so mentally tired. I think it really touched me.”

Duke Boeser died May 27, 12 years after Parkinson’s disease unleashed a relentless wave of serious health problems that eventually included cancer and dementia. Duke was 61. Brock is 25.

He spent last season worrying about his father, wishing he could be with him and his mother Laurie, and wondering what else he could do while still fulfilling his duty to the Canucks. Boeser was a ghost some nights but still managed 23 goals from his 46 points in 71 games.

He lived with so much fear and uncertainty that when an opportunity to find solid ground presented itself on Friday, he embraced the idea of ​​a three-year contract extension with the Canucks — another bridge deal that will again delay his chance at a long-term contract National Hockey League.

His interview with Sportsnet on Saturday was Boeser’s first since he broke down on May 1 at the Canucks’ year-end press conference when asked about his father. Boeser left the media room that day and headed to Burnsville, Minnesota to be with Duke in his final weeks.

“It was just a difficult scenario,” said Boeser. “I wish I could have been so much better (last season). You never know, if I score another five or six goals, we might be in the playoffs. I think about things like that and it definitely eats me up.

“I move forward and take things day by day, but . . . After all, I’ve really been thinking about hockey for the past two weeks and shifting my focus to it. I’m sitting here and thinking: I can hardly wait for the start of the season. Now that this deal is closed I’m just so excited. And like I said, I know I have a lot to prove. It’s going to be a different year for me mentally and that’s exciting.”

Boeser said he could understand his emotional state last season by looking at the Canucks’ scoring charts. When he went home for the Christmas break, Boeser said he saw how much Duke had rejected. By the time Brock left for Canucks training camp in September, Duke was able to walk. He couldn’t until January, Brock said.

After five goals in six games after Bruce Boudreau replaced Travis Green as coach in December, Boeser netted once in eight games after the Christmas break. When he finally injured his elbow in a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on April 3, Boeser had not scored a point in four games and only scored four goals in 20.

Boeser was able to “reform mentally” during his five-game injury layoff and finished the season with four goals and eight points in Vancouver’s last seven games.

Boeser’s worst NHL season came during a platform year when his first bridge deal expired and the Canucks faced a steep $7.5 million qualifying offer to retain rights to the restricted free agent. The three-year, $19.95 million deal the Canucks announced on Canada Day was a compromise for both parties.

“I’m really happy,” said Boeser. “We all knew that the (arbitration) deadline was today; I don’t think any of us really wanted to go that route, especially after everything that’s happened. They really believe in me and I can feel that strongly. Just the whole three year thing, I think it’s a good opportunity for me after everything that’s happened to just look ahead and really focus on hockey here and just show everyone what I can do and know that I can.

“Looking back on this year I still had 23 goals with the heaviest weight on my shoulders. Just not to have that weight. . . I mean, there’s still something there, but it’s a little bit different now. I know I have a lot to prove and I think I’m really keen to show everyone what I can do.”

Boeser said his mother is spending more time with him at his home in nearby Prior Lake, and the family plans to sell the old Burnsville home.

“I’ve been there a couple of times and it’s pretty weird,” Brock said. “It’s really quiet. So I’m thinking maybe just sell it and start over with a new, smaller place. . . We’ll think of something. One day at a time, but slowly it’s getting a little bit better.”

Boeser said he received incredible support before and after his father’s death, not only from teammates and friends but also from Canucks fans and others in the NHL.

“Since my breakdown with the media, it’s been overwhelming,” he said. “I got so many messages. . . reach people. There are so many people out there who say they fully understand what we are going through; You have a relative or a father or mother with dementia.

“It’s been overwhelming with all the support from all the Canucks fans throughout. And even in the last few years, everyone’s really had my back. You have been so supportive of my father. For the past few days I’ve been whispering in my dad’s ear about how much support he’s getting and how everyone is thinking of him and texting him and stuff. I know he definitely heard it. It has always meant a lot to him and to our entire family.”

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