Wednesday, February 29, 2012

TVOS and Fan-tastic Sports: Having A Special Place In Ottawa's Hockey History

Every Wednesday, I share my thoughts from inside the NHL Alumni Association and from around today’s NHL at Peter Ing and Bryce Salvador’s Fan-tastic Sports XHockey blog. This week’s article - Laurie Boschman’s special place in Ottawa hockey history.

Laurie Boschman's Special Place In Ottawa's Hockey History
NHL Alumni member and former Ottawa Senators captain
Laurie Boschman at the 2012 NHL All-Star Fan-Fair
(Photo - Andrew Rodger TVOS)
On the eve of the NHL All-Star festivities in the nation’s capital, the city of Ottawa and the Sens Foundation officially unveiled their “Rink of Dreams” - a refrigerated outdoor skating rink that is located next to Ottawa City Hall. As Mayor Jim Watson and the city councillors welcomed the skaters onto the ice, several guests of honour were in attendance. Ottawa Senators General Manager Bryan Murray and Head Coach Paul MacLean were on hand, as were two of this year’s All-Stars, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek. Also in attendance as an honoured guest was a man with a special place in Ottawa’s hockey history as the first captain of the modern-day Ottawa Senators, NHL Alumni member Laurie Boschman.

Laurie played in 1,009 regular season games during his NHL career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, New Jersey Devils and the Ottawa Senators. Perhaps best remembered as a member of the Jets during the 1980’s, Laurie arrived in Ottawa via the expansion draft for the franchise’s inaugural 1992-93 season after two years in New Jersey.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, as the eager skaters ventured out onto the ice for their first skate on the new rink, Laurie and I chatted about the All-Star game being held in Ottawa for the first time. We also discussed the Senators and the inroads the team has made in the community as they celebrate their 20th anniversary this season.

Our conversation led to the many “firsts” in a hockey player’s career. There are the obvious ones that every hockey player hopes to enjoy - putting on a jersey for their first NHL game and scoring their first goal. If all goes well, there may be a trip to the playoffs for the first time and a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. There is one event though that only a select few get to enjoy - being named the first captain of a new franchise.

I have had the chance to get to know Laurie since I began working with the NHL Alumni Association and I am proud to call him a friend. It’s a great feeling as a writer to have someone as respected in the hockey community as Laurie say, “Call me anytime” and he always makes sure to introduce me to his friends and former teammates when we meet at Alumni events. Last September, we spoke about the return of the Winnipeg Jets, his work with Hockey Ministries International and being part of the expansion Senators for an article at the NHL Alumni website and he reminisced about his time in Ottawa.

“It was a challenging first year and it was challenging to be a part of an expansion team, but it was also an interesting experience because I had never done that in my career.” Laurie said in our interview. “Living in Ottawa since then, it is interesting to see the growth of the team because my wife and I brought up three sons that played hockey and grew up as Sens fans. It is really neat to see that younger generation now that totally embraces this team.”

“It was a very unique experience for sure and there was a ton of excitement here at that time,” he continued. “I think what we noticed back then, was that while we had tremendous fan support right from day one, we also recognized that there were lots of Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadians fans, which still exist in Ottawa today. There was a lot of allegiance to those two brands and so it has taken twenty years to establish a fan base and a brand here in Ottawa. I think the Senators are solidly entrenched in the community now.”

While the Senators struggled on the ice in their inaugural season, finishing the year with a 10-70-4 record and only one road victory, the organization has grown in the community. Thanks to a lot of hard work by the players that have worn the uniform and the many people behind the scenes, the franchise has a solid reputation throughout the hockey world. Just as Jack Laviolette will always be the first captain of the Montreal Canadiens (1909-1910 season), when the Senators celebrate their centennial anniversary in 80 years, my friend Laurie will still have an honoured place in Ottawa’s hockey history as the first captain of the Ottawa Senators - that’s pretty special!

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