Boogaard, Laraque had mutual respect

They started out as bitter rivals on the ice, but in time, a surprising friendship bloomed between two of the toughest players in the NHL.

For former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque, the death of New York Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard on Friday night came as stunning news.

"He was a really committed guy and a really hard worker. People could say what they wanted about him and his talent but he was dedicated and had work ethic," Laraque said by phone Saturday. "We talked about training this summer and what we wanted to do and he was fully committed that he could be a force for the Rangers this year and he was really serious about it. He recovered from his concussion and really wanted to show the world and the NHL that he could come back really strong. He had a lot of character."

He added: "It was hard to believe the news and I'm still in disbelief by it."

During Boogaard's five years with the Minnesota Wild, he and Laraque, who was with the Penguins, Canadiens, Coyotes and Oilers during that time, treated each other as punching bags, not needing much prodding to drop the gloves. Laraque was retired in 2010-11 when Boogaard played with the Rangers.

Laraque, who played for four teams in a 12-year career that ended in 2010 with Montreal, said that Boogaard was the toughest guy in the NHL because he was mean and packed the hardest punch. He said that he didn't sleep well the night before he faced Boogaard.

"We always respected each other and when we played against each other we never took advantage of other guys," Laraque said. "He never took advantage of guys on our team because I was there and I never did that because he was there and we settled it between me and him. But we never roughed up guys because we respected the other person so much."

After Laraque retired in 2010, he said he and Boogaard had started using their hands to type emails and opened up the lines of communication. He said they actually had just talked several days before Boogaard's death about training together during the summer and Laraque said Boogaard wanted to do some MMA training.

Laraque, who is now a hockey commentator, said he was planning to head to Boogaard's hometown to train with him.

As much as Boogaard had a reputation as one of the league's most fearsome players on the ice, Laraque said that's not the way he was once the game ended.

"It's a stupid stereotype that people say if you're a tough guy you have to play the role and be the same way," Laraque said. "Most of the time people that fight, when they get off the ice they're usually the nicest guys, and every tough guy on every team is a fan favorite anyway. One of the reasons they're fan favorites is not just because they fight but because they're really approachable to their fans. He was the same way."

Matt Ehalt is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.