|Laurie Boschman, the captain of the expansion Senators in 1992-93, recalls a season that "was the most challenging year of my professional career." But his teammates helped make it bearable (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
Sometimes, the company you keep can truly the make a rough road seem a little less difficult to bear.
So it was for original Ottawa Senators captain Laurie Boschman, who'll frankly tell you the franchise's first season was anything but a joy ride. But the team he spent it with ... that he looks back upon with a much greater sense of fondness.
"We genuinely liked each other and got along," said Boschman. "That was important when you're not winning. It was a great bunch of guys. It really was."
Fourteen of them are back together today as the Senators officially launch their 20th anniversary season celebrations during tonight's home-opener against the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). Fewer than 500 tickets remain for the contest, which includes a pre-game tribute to the team that got it all started back in 1992-93.
Of course, as longtime Senators fans remember, that expansion squad — which played out of the Ottawa Civic Centre, because the building then known as the Palladium had yet to be built — was anything but a roaring success in the standings, winning just 10 of 84 games. It was a trying time, indeed, for Boschman, their on-ice leader.
"There wasn't much fun about it," admitted Boschman, who credited fellow veterans Brad Marsh, Gord Dineen, Doug Smail, Brad Shaw and Mark Lamb with helping his cause. "When you only win 10 games and you're in the business of winning ... that wasn't much fun. It was the most challenging year of my professional career by far. Being an older player and a veteran, just keeping everyone sort of in a decent frame of mind was the biggest challenge."
Even on their most glorious evening — the 5-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 8, 1992, the franchise's first game — Boschman and the Senators didn't allow themselves to get too giddy about prospects for the season.
"The Civic Centre is not a big building by NHL standards, but there was a lot of excitement (that night) because it was packed," said Boschman. "With the pomp and ceremony before the game and the fact we were playing the Canadiens ... the fact that we won the game was kind of fun. It certainly gave us a bit of hope going into that year.
"But we also knew, as a team, that there were going to be many challenging evenings and that certainly turned out to be true."
Boschman would go on to play his 1,000th career National Hockey League game during that season, a milestone in a career mostly spent with the Winnipeg Jets. He thought he was settled in with the New Jersey Devils and, though left unprotected in the expansion draft held to stock the Senators and the Tampa Bay Lightning, didn't expect to move.
"(Devils general manager) Lou Lamoriello told me before I was heading west for the summer that he was going to leave me unprotected," said Boschman. "And he'd talked to (Senators GM) Mel Bridgman and (Lightning counterpart) Phil Esposito and he indicated it was unlikely that I would get picked."
Imagine his surprise, then, as Boschman, his wife Nancy and his family made their way through U.S. customs on their way to their summer home in Winnipeg and heard these words from a customs agent: "Hey, Laurie, you're back for the summer. How do you feel about getting picked by the Senators?"
"That's how I found out," Boschman said in recalling that day. "It was quite a shock to us, that I got picked by the Senators. Once that wore off, the initial shock of being picked by an expansion team, you knew it was going to be a long year. But you also anticipated it because once we got settled in the west end of the city, (you could see) there was a tremendous amount of excitement in the community to have NHL hockey back in Ottawa.
"We sort of felt that excitement. They were just happy the NHL was back and they knew it would be quite a process before the team was a good team. It turned out the team was a very good team for a lot of years and big part of the community."
Boschman isn't surprised the Senators' story played out that way over last two decades.
"Being that it's a Canadian city, I did sort of figure this team would eventually become an integral part of the community," he said. "That's certainly been the case. It's been a real model franchise. The team has had a tremendous amount of success and it's been a very successful franchise through the years.
"Part of that is the players' understanding of what it means to be a pro hockey player. Players like Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips ... they're the veteran players passing that baton to the younger generation and teaching them a work ethic and teaching them what it means to be a part of the community and giving back. You see many of them getting involved in causes like Roger's House. They're really involved in the community and that's something that's very commendable."
The community also had an impact on Boschman, a Saskatchewan native who chose to call the capital home when his playing days were done.
"My wife, Nancy (who passed away six years ago), and I decided it would be a great place to raise a family," said Boschman, who married his current wife, Andrea, in 2008. "I got involved with Hockey Ministries, where I work now, and I've been here for 18 years. We just loved this city and this is home now. We raised our three boys here and we grew to love the community."
Now he's happily welcoming back some of his former Senators teammates to the city he loves. The 14 returning alumni were slated to take part in a luncheon today at the Prescott Hotel, and they'll be honoured before tonight's Sens-Wild matchup during a special pre-game ceremony.
"It'll be really fun to get reacquainted with some of the guys that I haven't seen in a few years," said the 51-year-old Boschman. "It'll be a trip for us down memory lane, there's no doubt about that. I can hardly believe that time has gone by and the Sens are celebrating 20 years. That seems like it's gone incredibly fast."