When Brock Boeser and his buddies want to unwind in the summer, they go to Cannon River, near his hometown of Burnsville, Minn. It’s a perfect spot for swimming and cliff-jumping and sounds like an idyllic getaway for teenagers, particularly since Boeser’s career as a pro hockey player is looking promising right now.
A potential first-round pick in the 2015 draft, Boeser played at the All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo and before that, was chosen to represent Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup in Europe this past August. He and linemate Tom Novak, a longtime friend from summer hockey, were 1-2 in tournament scoring, helping the Americans to a bronze medal. But just as the elite gathering was kicking off, a tragedy rocked Boeser’s world.
Four teens from Burnsville high school were driving back from a day at Cannon River when their SUV lost control and rolled, killing baseball player Ty Alyea, while injuring the other three. Boeser’s old teammate from the Burnsville Blaze hockey team, Cole Borchardt, was critically hurt and is still in hospital two months later. Initially, he needed emergency brain surgery to relieve pressure and as of late September, hadn’t really woken up from heavy sedation yet.
“He’s slowing making progress,” Boeser said. “I’m just praying and hoping for him. They were all my best friends growing up.”
Boeser was already over in the Czech Republic when the crash happened (alcohol was not a factor, though only driver Matthew Berger and passenger Tylan Procko were wearing seatbelts) and did what he could to stay in the loop.
“Right before the first practice it happened,” he said. “It was a long trip, I’ll tell you. I think I counted, at one point, 100 texts from different people. My phone bill was off the rails, but it was necessary.”
Going home was not the answer for the star right winger, not yet at least.
“I knew they would have wanted me to stay there and play it out, so that’s what I did,” Boeser said. “I tried to play for them.”
Sturdy at 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, Boeser is now in the United States League, playing for the consistently dangerous Waterloo Black Hawks. His old pal Novak is there too, as are former high school teammates Tyler Sheehy and Sam Rossini. Boeser jumped out to a great start this season with three goals and five points in three games, putting him in a tie for second in USHL scoring. And while his friends are still on his mind, his support network extends beyond the Burnsville/Black Hawks connection.
Dan Boeser, Brock’s cousin and a University of Wisconsin alum, was just hired as an assistant coach with the Chicago Steel. He used to hold the same role with the Blaze high school team and went to the hospital the night of the crash. Even though he’s in Chicago now, the coach has kept an open line of communication with students from Burnsville High if they need someone to talk to about the tragedy. He thinks Waterloo was a great place for his formerly shy cousin to grow his game, but he also knows how talented the kid is on the ice.
“He's a power forward-type,” said coach Boeser. “To me, his two biggest assets are his hockey IQ and his shot. He can score from anywhere and the talent surrounding him in Waterloo is only going to help.”
Dan Boeser is 34, so his relationship with Brock is much more of a mentorship. The two talk nearly every day and it’s probably no surprise that the younger cousin has also committed to Wisconsin, where Dan was a captain for the Badgers and Brock’s mom has family.
“I grew up watching him play there and I was always around,” Brock said. “It became my dream school; I really love the campus and it felt right when I went there and committed.”
A fan of New York’s Kyle Okposo, Brock still wants to get more explosive in his skating and work on his defensive play, but cousin Dan has seen a willingness to block shots and believes his kin wants to be a solid two-way player. Still, when two points are on the line, Dan is willing to use insider information to help the Steel.
“It's going to be interesting,” he said. “When we match up, I know his tendencies and I know some things that get under his skin.”
But off the ice, Dan will still be there for Brock. And as Borchardt continues to recover, it’s surely nice to know that Boeser isn’t alone out there.