With his Winnipeg Jets socks and Ottawa Senators hockey pants, it’s easy to tell where Laurie Boschman’s heart lies when he steps on the ice for charity hockey games.
"I’m an Ottawa Senators fan first of all because I’m president of their alumni, but a very close second would be the Winnipeg Jets," Boschman, who resides in Ottawa and was the first captain in Senators history, told the Free Press.
"Two out of my three boys were born in Winnipeg and I have a fondness for this region with lots of friends here still."
And local hockey fans should have a fondness for Boschman as well. Before he laced up his skates at the Winnipeg Arena for the Jets, Boschman starred for the Brandon Wheat Kings, leading them to the Western Hockey League title in the 1978-79 season where he scored a remarkable 66 goals and put up 149 points in 65 games.
But Boschman, who was born in Major, Sask., before moving to Brandon at the age of nine, would have to wait a couple of years after junior before he’d give the Keystone Province something to cheer for. The Toronto Maple Leafs selected the centre ninth overall in the 1979 NHL Draft and it didn’t end up being an ideal fit. After a solid rookie campaign with 48 points in 80 games, Boschman didn’t show much progress in his second and third seasons in Toronto.
It turns out Harold Ballard, who owned the Leafs at the time, had a theory as to why Boschman wasn’t living up to his potential.
"There was an expectation that in my third year I was really going to blossom, but I got off to a poor start. They pointed to ‘Well, he’s a born-again Christian. It must be because of his faith that he’s not playing well.’ That was an easy thing to point to. And then Harold Ballard publicly went on record and said I had too much religion and he was going to send me to the minors as a result of it," Boschman recalled.
"It just started this cascading situation with the coaching staff that lost confidence in me as a player. So, I really needed to move on."
Toronto threw in the towel on Boschman and traded him to the Edmonton Oilers in March of 1982. The following March, the Oilers sent Boschman to Winnipeg in exchange for forward Willy Lindstrom.
Unlike Ballard, Jets general manager John Ferguson Sr. accepted Boschman with open arms.
"(Ferguson) met me at the airport. He said to me ‘Laurie, I don’t want you to worry about anything that transpired in Toronto with your religion. I just want you to play hockey like you did back in Brandon.’ It was so kind of John to meet me at the airport and say that because I had come from a situation in Toronto and the year before in Edmonton where they thought I wasn’t playing well because of my faith in Christ. So when John said that, it was really nice of him to do that," Boschman said.
"It was very unusual for a general manager to meet you at the airport."
Boschman was thrown on a line with Scott Arniel and Lucien DeBlois and his career took off.
He’d end up playing seven of his 14 NHL seasons in the River City. His best statistical season came with the Jets in 1983-84 when he potted 28 goals and added 46 assists in 61 games.
Boschman would play a pair of seasons for the New Jersey Devils before finishing his NHL career in Ottawa in 1993.
Being religious almost cut Boschman’s career short, but today, it’s what keeps him involved in the sport.
Maple Leafs teammate Ron Ellis turned him on to the Bible when he was a youngster in the league and now Boschman is the one helping young players with their faith. Boschman is the chaplain for the Senators and is a director for an organization called Hockey Ministries International (HMI). They run Christian-based hockey programming for kids in seven countries and 38 cities, including Winnipeg.
Typically, HMI runs camps throughout the summer, but this year’s schedule is in danger owing to COVID-19. Regardless of whether there are camps this year, Boschman hopes future generations won’t be judged for their religious beliefs. Despite making it to the best hockey league in the world and earning a substantial amount of money doing it, Boschman admits he felt something was missing in his life. He credits his Christianity for helping him turn his life around.
"Ron Ellis had a real peace in his life and it was through that I started to ask him some questions," said Boschman. "He directed me to the Bible. I always thought the Bible was for the priest, the pastor or the minister. I didn’t think a regular hockey player could understand what’s in the Bible and he said ‘No, no. You can understand’ and then I found some answers in the scripture. It was basically through the lack of peace in my life that I tried to turn to understand what Christ has done."
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Boschman’s name and number will likely never hang from the rafters at Bell MTS Place, but he certainly played a key part in helping the Jets become a playoff team on a yearly basis. His name is all over the NHL Jets 1.0 record book as he’s eighth in games played (526), fifth in points (379), and first in penalty minutes (1,338). The days of battling in the Smythe Division against Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and the dominant Oilers squads is in the past, but Boschman still laces up his skates. He suits up in charity games in the winter for Hockey Helps the Homeless fundraisers across the country.
"First of all, most won’t remember me. You have to be a certain age to remember," said Boschman with a laugh when asked what he hopes Jets fans remember him for.
"But no, I hope they look back on those teams in the ’80s. We were very competitive and we had a good group of guys here. I hope they look back with fondness on some of those battles we had with the Oilers and Calgary Flames."
Taylor Allen Reporter
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.