OTTAWA - Laurie Boschman had to get over the initial shock.
Exposed to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators in the 1992-93 NHL expansion draft, Boschman was assured by New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello he wasn’t going to be picked up and the Devils definitely wanted him back.
But a funny thing happened as Boschman, his late-wife Nancy and the rest of his then-young family made their way back to Canada from New Jersey that June evening, he arrived to stunning news from a Canadian customs officer.
“So, how do you feel about being picked up by the Ottawa Senators?” Boschman was asked after he landed in his off-season home in Winnipeg.
Boschman didn’t know how to answer because he’d been in the air, had checked on a stopover in Minneapolis and told by a friend he hadn’t been selected, and was preparing to return to the Devils the next season.
Offered the chance to be dealt back to New Jersey, Boschman left it up to Ottawa GM Mel Bridgman and Lamoriello to decide. A week later he was told by Bridgman he wasn’t going to be returned to the Devils.
“The first thing I did was call up friends like Chico Resch who had played on expansion teams and asked them, ‘What’s that like?’, ” recalled Boschman. “They told me, it might be a long few years, it’s going to be tough.
“But I can tell you, until you actually get into that situation, you don’t know how difficult it’s going to be. Professionally, it was sort of the hardest year of the 14 years I had encountered, but we had a really good group of guys. We stuck together as a group of guys and those are some of the great memories that I have.”
With just a $9-million payroll, the Senators thought they might actually surprise a few people after opening night, when they did the unthinkable and knocked off the Montreal Canadiens at the Civic Centre.
As they showered after the game, they actually thought everybody who had said this team could be horrible could be wrong. Reality soon sunk in. Boschman, the first captain in club history, was the head of a sinking ship.
PLENTY OF LONG NIGHTS
All coach Rick Bowness and assistants E.J. McGuire and Alain Vigneault could do was try to keep it afloat. There were a lot of long nights for the Senators, who simply didn’t stand a chance against much better competition.
That first opening night will always be memorable.
“It was special because there was so much excitement in the community about the NHL coming back to Ottawa,” said Boschman. “That was something that you can only experience once and something you’ll never forget.
“People were just so excited to see it ... all the fanfare that surrounded it. I was a part of 13 other opening nights in my career and I never once saw one that made the impact like that one did. That was a real treat.”
The losses that piled up with a roster that included guys such as Doug Smail, Mark Lamb, Jamie Baker, Andrew McBain, Brad Shaw and Peter Sidorkiewicz made it tough. One of the few highlights was the club’s first victory on the road — after 38 straight losses. On April 10, 1993, in Uniondale, N.Y., Boschman deposited a puck into an empty net, not only to complete a hat trick, but seal the club’s first road victory — a 5-3 win — and he will never forget the players gathering around him.
“We were finally going to win a game and as we were celebrating I just remember telling the guys, ‘I’m going to Disneyland, I’m going to Disneyland.’ Jamie Baker still recalls that story,” said Boschman.
Boschman is looking forward to seeing some his old teammates during the celebration for the inaugural team on Tuesday with the Minnesota Wild here.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen some of those faces. I’m sure there’s going to be a few laughs,” said Boschman.