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12/31/2004 7:32 AM - Griffins’ opponents can’t help but notice Darryl Bootland on the ice – and he wouldn’t have it any other way

Story and photo by Mark Newman

On the ice, Darryl Bootland is often in the middle of the action.

If tempers flare, sticks are raised, gloves are thrown, just look for #27 somewhere in the pile. He’s no shrinking violet. Never has been. He’s always been the attention-getter, the guy you half-expect to see wearing a lamp shade at the party.

The only time you’d ever find Bootland in a corner by himself is when one of his school teachers put him there.

“I was always kind of the class clown, trying to get everybody laughing,” Bootland says, admitting that girls often figured into the equation. “Every teacher told me that I’d never make it anywhere.”

He’s always had a bit of the devil-may-care attitude, the ruffian, the agitator, the hellion on skates – not so much a troublemaker as the one whom trouble often found.

“I've always said that I play better when somebody is trying to kill me,” Bootland says. “It used to be my dad and now it’s the other players, so it works out, I guess. It’s not like I go looking for it.”

Not usually anyway. Over the past three seasons, Bootland has proven himself to be an agent provocateur par excellence, inciting opponents to acts that often result in a penalty and time in the box.

“I’ve always enjoyed that role,” he says. “It’s fun to get into things and the fans love it – everybody gets involved. It makes the game exciting. You hear the crowd get loud, but you’re not thinking about them. You’re just trying to do your job.”

His job has been to get under the skin of the opposition, to be an irritant and a general nuisance. “You go out there every night, knowing that you’ve got every guy on the other team hating your guts.”

Bootland became an instant crowd pleaser in Grand Rapids when he was called up from Toledo two seasons ago. He was a fan favorite in Detroit last year when he played 22 games with the Red Wings.

Although he didn’t set out to prove his teachers wrong, his promotion to the NHL was vindication of sorts for a kid who was never given much more than a fighting chance of ever playing hockey at its highest level.

“I don’t know if I was ready because it was such a shock just to be there,” he says. “At the same time, I don’t know if you can ever be ready. All I know is it was two months that definitely changed my life.

“Now that I’ve had a taste, I want the whole thing.”

The Red Wings were so beset by injuries last season that the team dressing room in Joe Louis Arena seemed more populated by Griffins than Detroit veterans. “There were a lot of us up there, so it wasn’t like I was the only new guy,” he says. “It was fun for all of us to be in Detroit at the same time.

“I was smiling every day because I was just happy to be there. Sure, you get more comfortable as time goes, but you never know when it’s going to end. I just tried to enjoy it as much as I possibly could.”

Playing in Detroit was an experience that Bootland feels will be invaluable in the future.

“I learned something every day,” he says. “You walked into that dressing room with all those Hall of Fame players and you could pick any of them and learn something by watching.”

If nothing else, Bootland learned a thing or two about leadership. He spent a lot of time with Red Wings assistant coach Joe Kocur, who taught him “a thing or two” about being a stand-up guy.

Not that Bootland wasn’t already the best teammate a guy could ever want. He’s always been a player who not only watched your back, but was ready to pick you up whenever he saw that you were down.

“You need guys who keep things happy in the room,” he says. “You can’t be dead serious all the time every day. We wear suits to the game, but that’s enough. We need to relax and have a little fun.

“This is the best time of our lives and you never want to forget these years.”

Even more so, Bootland is out to prove that last season was no fluke.

He worked hard during the off-season to improve his speed, skills and strength, and he’s thrilled to be getting more ice time. He is enjoying the opportunity to showcase what he is capable of contributing to the power play and penalty killing units.

Whatever his role, he’s willing to fight for every minute of playing time.

“You live your whole life to be a pro hockey player and to be here and to make the money we do. It doesn’t get any better,” Bootland says. “You want to go out there and enjoy yourself as much as possible.”

Bootland says making it to the NHL meant a lot to his family, especially his father and brother Nick, who is a regular for the Cleveland Barons this season.

“I got my dad down to the (Detroit) dressing room a couple of times and he met a lot of the guys,” Bootland says. “It was his dream to play in the NHL and if he had to say one of his boys was going to make it, it probably would have been my brother.

“Nick was the hardest working guy on every team he ever played on.”

Although they crossed paths in the East Coast Hockey League and they’ve faced each other in the American Hockey League, the brothers have never squared off and dropped their gloves.

Not that Darryl hasn’t tried coercing his older brother (by nearly three years) into mixing things up.

“If we had to do it, I think I’d be trying to hide from those big hands of his,” Bootland says. “I think he’s a bit stronger than me, but I don’t know how good a fighter he is, so we’ll have to find out someday.

“We’ve got to get in The Hockey News some way, right?”

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