CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. — 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 pre-season game against the Ottawa Senators Monday night in St. John's to highlight the 2011 Kraft Hockeyville festivities. Boschman, the first captain of the Senators during their expansion season of 1992-93, 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 — the Senators’ current head coach — 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 is enjoying this Hockeyville 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 pre-season 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 calls Ottawa home. "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."
Here is the Sens roster for the Kraft Hockeyville pre-season game against the Winnipeg Jets in St. John's, N.L.:
Goaltenders — Alex Auld, Mike McKenna.
Defence — Jared Cowen, Chris Phillips, Brian Lee, David Rundblad, Matt Carkner, Eric Gryba, Erik Karlsson.
Forwards — Daniel Alfredsson, Peter Regin, Colin Greening, Zack Smith, Bobby Butler, Chris Neil, Mark Parrish, Corey Locke, Corey Cowick, Derek Grant, David Dziurzynski, Mike Hoffman, Mika Zibanejad.
— Author: Brian Compton/with files from Rob Brodie