Health over hockey: Laker captain saw high school career cut short due to health complications from COVID-19
Detroit Lakes boys hockey senior captain Beau Boehne wasn't able to finish his final two seasons of high school hockey. He developed myocarditis after his first run-in with COVID-19 in his junior year; he caught COVID again in his senior year, and the risk was too great to continue playing, abruptly ending his high school hockey career.
DETROIT LAKES — When the Detroit Lakes boys hockey team met at junior Ben Hines' house for their traditional pregame breakfast on the morning of Feb. 26, every player but one was gearing up for the Section 8A semifinal.
The one who wasn't gearing up, Beau Boehne, gave the Lakers their final pregame speech of the season.
Boehne's season ended a month earlier, following a game against Prairie Center at the Kent Freeman Arena on Jan. 20. The senior captain assisted on a second-period goal in the 8-0 win.
Little did he know, that would be the last time he would wear the Laker jersey. Boehne tested positive for COVID-19 in the days after.
For most high school athletes, the virus leads to minor or moderate symptoms and a standard quarantine. For Boehne, it lead to the end of his hockey season — twice.
I don't think there's a game that Beau played in that he didn't think his team was going to win.
"Last year, during my junior season, I was diagnosed with Myocarditis (after having COVID-19)," Boehne said. "It's inflammation of the heart, that prevented me from being able to play. My enzymes were really high. I played in about half of the games last year in the short season. Right away, I was like, 'This sucks. Thankfully, it's my junior season.' If I had known what was coming, I would've thought about it differently."
Despite playing only eight games during the 2020-21 season, he was named one of the captains for the following season. In 17 games, he scored 13 goals and recorded nine assists. He was an intricate offensive piece on a top-10 Class A team that went 20-6-2.
Detroit Lakes lost to Thief River Falls in the 8A semifinals, ending one of the best seasons in program history.
"We've told everybody that our team is really good and that people shouldn't sleep on us," Boehne said. "I think we proved that. I was really looking forward to being on the ice with a team that could go far, and potentially win a section championship and go to the state tournament. When you play on a team like this, there aren't a lot of bad days. It's so much fun playing on this team. When you find out it's over, it's kind of like a bombshell being dropped on you. It's all taken away now."
Testing positive a second time
Boehne hadn't forgotten his junior year setback as he took on his senior season. Each day he had spent at home that year, while his teammates were on the ice, made him hungrier to come back.
When COVID-19 cases began to spike nationwide during his senior year winter sports season, Boehne did his best to stay in a good head space. When he tested positive for the second time in two years, his fear of an abrupt end to his playing days became reality.
"It spiked my enzymes up again," he said of his second COVID infection. "The doctors told me I couldn't play. I don't have Myocarditis anymore, but because I did in the past, it triggered my enzyme spike again. They told me one of my vessels was larger than it should be, and the safest thing for me was not to play. It could've caused clotting and stuff."
In the following weeks, Boehne went to several doctor's appointments, hoping a return to hockey to finish his senior season would be possible. Despite how he felt, he was optimistic he would play again.
"I was a little nervous, but I thought there was no way it was the same thing as last year," Boehne said. "The original pain I had, I wouldn't wish that upon anyone. You never think this kind of stuff can happen to you. You definitely don't think it's going to happen to you twice."
Boehne had one last appointment one week before the section playoffs started. That's when his hope ran out.
"I knew after the doctor's first two sentences it was over," Boehne said. "She came into the room and started talking. My dad and I kind of looked at each other and knew it was done. My parents were pretty emotional. I think they took it a little harder than I did. I'm sad and frustrated about it, too, obviously."
"Watching my friends and teammates play in this environment, I just wonder why there isn't something I could take to prevent my body from failing," Boehne said as he looked onto the ice before the Section 8A semifinals. "I can't believe there's nothing I could do to get me a couple more games."
'Our family is a hockey family'
Beau's father, Al, has been on the microphone at the Kent Freeman Arena more times than he can count. Being the Lakers' public address announcer for his children's home games is "a privilege," he said.
"Our family is a hockey family," he added. "Every kid we have, all six of them, played hockey at one time or another. That was a big deal in our family. I can't tell you how many games we went to. You don't play hockey at the youth level just because it's something to do. The ultimate thing — and I've talked to Beau about this multiple times — but you just want to get to the state tournament. I don't think there's a game that Beau played in that he didn't think his team was going to win."
Al tested positive for COVID-19 a week before Beau.
"I got sick before he did this winter," Al said. "He told me, 'Dad, you have to get better so I can hear you announce my name again.' Well, that never happened. By the time I got well, he had gotten sick. We've all put so much in, between summer hockey, fall hockey and going up to Winnipeg for camps. When it all crashes down on you before you get a chance to get an opportunity to achieve what you were trying to do, it's just heartbreaking."
The end of Beau's high school career had a ripple effect throughout his family.
"It was a shocker, but you have to put your health first and hockey second," Al said while fighting back tears. "Beau is a decent player, and he's grown up with these kids, playing his whole life with them. It was so hard on his mom, and she wouldn't go to the games. She just couldn't watch him sit on the bench and not play. She went to the last couple of games and got back into it to support him and his friends."
"It's just a game, but you put so much of your life into it that it gets hard to say, 'It's just a game,'" he continued. "I think Beau isn't telling the truth if he said he thinks this was harder on his mom and dad. It was hard on us, but it wasn't good for him. He handled it very well."
Becoming a different kind of leader
Beau wasn't just one of the Lakers' leading point scorers — he was also an emotional leader. On the day of the section semifinal, he gave a heartfelt speech at the team breakfast. Even in an off-ice capacity, head coach Ben Noah said Boehne didn't stop leading by example.
"It's just as important to be a leader and show those good qualities you have off the ice as it is on the ice," Boehne said. "My mom tells me this stuff all the time. She always wants to talk about the bright side of things, which gets annoying because she's right. This was a true test for me to show that I could still be a leader of this team when I'm not on the ice."
Boehne stood on the bench in street clothes and a hockey helmet during games.
"It's so cliche to say you don't know when your last game will be," Boehne said. "We've heard from previous coaches and players that you'll miss it even more than you think when it's over. When you're a teenager, you think you're invincible. You think you're going to play forever. Having it taken away from me in my junior year, it just hit me. I came into this year wanting to play as hard as I could in every game. I did that. You have to play like it's your last game every time. What's the point of playing if you're not going to do it right?"
His parents said they couldn't be more proud of how their son handled the whole situation. When he had every right to be resentful, they said, he instead chose to be impactful.
"It's a setback in life," Al said. "It teaches you how to deal with adversity. It will make him a better person in the long run. I think he'll get back to playing some day. Maybe not at a junior level, but maybe just around town or skating with youth programs. He's good with kids. In the big scope of the world, this isn't that big of a deal. But it's big to you because your world isn't that big. I don't think Beau is resentful towards anybody because of his bad luck. He's taking it all like a trooper."
Beau hasn't shut the door on playing hockey again. His talent at the high school level is good enough to give him some low-level junior hockey opportunities. However, there is still uncertainty despite his improving health.
"He had a checkup (last Thursday)," Al said. "His heart is in very good shape. He has another appointment on May 12. He's going to have a cardiac MRI. We're hoping they will release him to any activities an 18-year-old kid would do. He has opportunities to play for some junior teams. I think he's holding a grudge on the hockey side of things because of the last two years. He doesn't want to go through it again where they tell him it's over, even if they say it's OK to play now. We'll see what happens. Time cures a few things."
For now, Beau is looking forward to the summer months. He loves fishing and wake surfing, so when he gets the OK from his doctors, and when the snow melts, he's looking forward to being on the water.
When you're a teenager, you think you're invincible. You think you're going to play forever. Having it taken away from me in my junior year, it just hit me. I came into this year wanting to play as hard as I could in every game. I did that.
As for his high school hockey career, the Lakers' season ended about 12 hours after he gave his breakfast speech. But for him, being a Laker meant more than just being a hockey player.
"It's crazy to think about how much fun I had playing for this team even though my seasons were cut short," Boehne said. "You have to give the credit to coach Noah and all of the other coaches. He came in during my sophomore season and told us we were going to change things up. He's the guy responsible for changing the culture. It was up to us kids to get the community to follow us. I think we did that."
"If you look back at the culture of the past and where it is now, only the inner circle is going to know that we were moving in the right direction," Boehne said. "There's always going to be outside noise saying we were the same old DL hockey team that can't win. What this inner circle always knew is we love each other so much, and we love being on this team. We are here to do things the right way and treat people with respect. So for me to be a part of that is more than I could've asked for."