CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, Newfoundland -- The best years of Laurie Boschman
's playing career were spent with the Winnipeg Jets
, so when the team left town 15 years ago for Phoenix, he was obviously very disappointed.
"I was very sad to see that happen," Boschman told NHL.com Sunday morning. "I have lots of friends and family in the area. I know how they felt about it. Even if you're not a hockey fan, when you lose a team of that caliber in the community, it really sort of lays a blow on your psyche."
Things are better in Winnipeg these days. The Jets are returning to the NHL this season and will play a preseason game against the Ottawa Senators
Monday night in St. John's to highlight the 2011 Kraft Hockeyville festivities. Boschman is spending the weekend in Newfoundland, helping youth players along during on-ice clinics.
"I was in Winnipeg running a hockey camp this summer and it feels like they're back in the big leagues," Boschman said. "There's a lot of good things happening in Winnipeg right now and the economy has really picked up there. It looks like they've got a much more solid base that can support this kind of thing.
"I played seven years in Winnipeg and two of my three boys were born there. I have lots of friends in Winnipeg. I was thrilled. To have a seventh Canadian team (in the NHL) and to have it back in Winnipeg, it's absolutely fantastic. I'm just really excited and I'm really pleased with how the fans in Winnipeg have embraced it."
Now 51, Boschman appeared in 1,009 NHL games from 1979-1993. He was most productive with the Jets and his best season came in 1984-85, when he had 32 goals and 44 assists. His 76 points ranked fourth on the club behind only Dale Hawerchuk
, Paul MacLean
and Thomas Steen
Despite the talent Winnipeg boasted in the mid 1980s and early 1990s, it was never able to overcome division rivals such as Edmonton and Calgary.
"I was in the Smythe Division seven years," Boschman said. "In six of those seven years, the Stanley Cup came out of that division. We would meet the Oilers and we could never get by them. We were up 3-1 (in 1990) and they came back. You could sort of neutralize Gretz (Wayne Gretzky
) or Mess (Mark Messier
) for a game, but then (Jari) Kurri or (Glen) Anderson would hurt you. Or you'd neutralize all the forwards, and then Paul Coffey
would get two goals and Grant Fuhr
would stand on his head. My favorite memory is playing that Smythe Division and the group of guys we had in Winnipeg. We had a very good team, but we just couldn't get by the Oilers. But I have lots of great memories in Winnipeg and the fans there were so supportive."
Boschman's career is somewhat unique, as he was a very skilled offensive player who also didn't mind mixing things up. Despite racking up 234 penalty minutes in 1983-84, Boschman still managed to tally 28 goals and 46 assists. He finished his NHL career with 229 goals, 348 assists and 2,260 penalty minutes.
So, how did he manage to produce at such a high level when he spent so much time in the box?
"Those refs used to pick on me quite a bit," Boschman joked. "I was kind of an aggressive player and I loved to compete. I was fairly intense and aggressive and I was a real competitor. I just loved to play hard. It was just in my DNA. It was a lot of fun."
Boschman is having a lot of fun this weekend and is thrilled for the people of Conception Bay South and St. John's. Not only will the Mile One Centre host an NHL preseason game Monday night, but the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate will reside in St. John's. The IceCaps will play their first home game on Oct. 14 against Hamilton.
"I think it's great that the Winnipeg farm team is going to be located in St. John's," said Boschman, who also played Toronto, Edmonton, New Jersey and Ottawa. "They do have a history here. It means a lot to the people and I know there's been a strong response with season tickets. It's a real positive because there's been a renewed interest at the American Hockey League level."
The interest in Kraft Hockeyville continues to grow. This year's competition began with a record 653 communities, but Conception Bay South -- a town with just over 20,000 residents -- managed to defy the odds and become the sixth town to host the event.
"I think it's a great format," said Boschman, who lives in Ottawa. "What I find as a fan of hockey is all the communities as they get their bids together, they all kind of rally together and it's a really neat thing to see. It goes from coast to coast. It's nice to be here in Newfoundland and see the passion for it. No matter where it is, whether it's on the West Coast or the East Coast or the central part of Canada, there's a great love for the sport."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL