(Courtesy of Perry Bergson, The Brandon Sun) — Laurie Boschman’s hockey career may have taken him a long way, but he’s never forgotten his adopted hometown and the Brandon Wheat Kings.
Boschman, 56, spent two full seasons with the Wheat Kings from 1977 to 1979 and went on to play 1,009 regular season games in the National Hockey League.
“We had such good teams and had such good leadership with (head coach) Dunc McCallum,” he said. “I have so many good memories. Of course because our team was so good the two years that I was there, it was fun playing with the guys who I had a chance to play with. Everything was positive. The city is a great community and I can think of nothing but good things when I remember the late ’70s.”
The Neelin high school graduate moved from tiny Bengough, Sask., which is 140 km southwest of Regina, to Brandon when he was nine.
“As a nine-year-old when I moved to Brandon and they had a junior hockey team, it was pretty neat to go and watch that as a young person,” he said. “It was kind of like, ya I would like to one day play for the Wheat Kings.”
Before he joined the Wheat Kings, Boschman played a full season with the Brandon Travellers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 1976-77.
He remembers his head coach Andy Murray talking to teammates Kerry Pedrick and Boyd Mullin prior to his first game in Selkirk against the Steelers in what was a more rough-and-tumble era of the game.
“I’m a rookie and 16 years old and carrying bags because of course the rookies had to carry all the bags,” Boschman said. “Andy has Kerry and Boyd, and he has them over on the side of the bus and I’m coming for my third trip for bags and I overheard Andy say ‘And if anyone touches him, I want you guys to go get them.’ It kind of made me feel a lot taller that night.”
It turned out the 16-year-old didn’t need much help. In 47 games that year, Boschman had 17 goals, 40 assists and 139 penalty minutes.
Still, Boschman is grateful to his teammates that season.
“They were older players and they took me under their wing and looked after me and gave me a lot of confidence by letting me play,” he said. “I learned how to defend myself. I have some great memories of playing for Andy, and playing with Kerry and Boyd.”
A year later, Boschman joined the Wheat Kings for the first of his two seasons with the club. The team would go 104-17-23 in the regular season in his time there as he was on a team that included Brian Propp, Ray Allison and Brad McCrimmon for both years.
“You’re just a kid and you’re doing what you love to do and that’s to play hockey,” he said. “I was just glad once I made the Brandon Wheat Kings that (coach) Dunc (McCallum) seemed to have some confidence in me and played me. Billy Derlago was our big gun my first year there.”
Indeed. Derlago had 89 goals and 63 assists in just 52 games in 1977-78, centring Propp and Allison.
Boschman enjoyed a terrific rookie season as a 17-year-old, playing all 72 games, scoring 42 goals, adding 57 assists and earning 227 penalty minutes.
Things were going to get even better.
With Derlago graduating to the pro ranks for his overage season, Boschman slid into his spot centring Propp and Allison in what proved to be the most magical season in franchise history. The Wheat Kings won the WHL title after posting an unmatched regular season of record of 58-5-9 and going through the unwieldy playoff format with a record of 18-4.
In 65 regular season games, Boschman scored 66 goals, recorded 83 assists and was assessed 215 penalty minutes.
“I felt very privileged to be able to play with those two guys because they were very accomplished junior players,” he said of Propp and Allison. “I was just thrilled that we seemed to have some chemistry. They were very good players. They were a year older than I was so they had played a little bit longer.”
Boschman knew Allison especially well — ”he was like a bigger brother” — because he had billeted with the Boschman family for almost three years.
He remembers the long bus trips and the fact that some of the guys in the back of the bus were getting sick because fuel fumes were seeping inside. With one driver and the long overnight trips, the players also tried to take care of the man at the wheel.
“We used to take turns going to talk to the bus driver just to keep him awake and keep him alert,” he said. “It’s what creates the memories, guys playing cards, talking, just hanging out really because you spend a lot of time together in the WHL on the buses, the iron lungs. Back in those days there was no TV screens or video or any of that stuff so you have to read, do homework, hang out, play cards, whatever to occupy yourself because you’re spending a lot of time on that bus.”
Boschman’s only regret from that 1978-79 season is, understandly, the way it ended, with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Peterborough Petes in the Memorial Cup final on May 13, 1979.
“They were using four lines and they seemed to keep coming at us,” Boschman said. “They were a lot fresher than we were in that final game. This is when you look back, but I remember being just so exhausted once we lost and once that was over. There wasn’t anything that was left over on the ice, just the sheer disappointment of not being able to bring home a championship to Brandon. But the people treated us exceptionally well when we came home.”
Boschman was named to the Memorial Cup all-star team that year with Allison and McCrimmon. It wasn’t the last time they would share the hockey world’s spotlight.
On Aug. 9, Boschman was drafted ninth overall in the 1979 National Hockey League draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the highest of four Wheat Kings taken in the top 18 picks that also included Propp (14th, Philadelphia Flyers), McCrimmon (15th, Boston Bruins) and Allison (18th, Hartford Whalers).
A franchise record of 10 Wheat King players were taken that year, a mark unlikely to ever be matched because the draft age dropped from 20 to 18, making three age classes eligible at once.
Boschman would spend his 19-year-old season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, starting a 14-year NHL career that would see him also play with the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, New Jersey Devils and serve as captain with the expansion Ottawa Senators in his final season in 1992-93.
It didn’t take long for Boschman to make headlines in the NHL, but nobody could have predicted why. The young forward was put on blast by cantankerous Leafs owner Harold Ballard, who felt that Boschman’s Christian faith was having an adverse effect on his play.
He was dealt to the Oilers on March 9, 1982 in a deal that included his former Brandon teammate Walt Poddubny.
Boschman is perhaps best known for his eight-year run with the Jets. He was dealt in September 1990 to the Devils, and claimed in the NHL expansion draft on June 18, 1992 that stocked the Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning.
He’s happy with his career, in which he scored 229 goals, added 348 assists and earned 2,265 penalty minutes.
“I got to do something I love to do, and that was to play in the NHL,” he said. “That was the fulfilment of something that I had thought about as a youngster growing up in Manitoba. To be able to realize that dream is pretty significant.”
While Boschman took a year off and then played seven games in the United Kingdom in 1994-95, there was very little question about where his career path would lead after hockey.
He became more involved with a Christian organization called Hockey Ministries International, a group he had been part of since he was 25 years old and a member of the Jets in 1994.
He’s now in charge of the non-denominational chapel program in the NHL, and serves as chaplain for the program in Ottawa and the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Hockey Ministries operates chapel programs with 350 teams in more than 40 leagues around the world.
In the summer, he helps out with the group’s 33 hockey camps that have been held in six countries for more than four decades that combines hockey instruction with Bible-based principles.
Boschman has had shoulder and knee surgeries but considers himself to be in good health after a long career in the game, although he has some trouble with a sore back. He still plays — including with the Jets alumni team against the Oilers in the outdoor game at Investors Group Field last October in Winnipeg —and serves as the president of the Senators alumni.
Boschman and his wife Nancy, who passed away from cancer in 2006, had three sons, Brent, Mark and Jeff. He remarried in 2008 to his wife Andrea. He’s happily expecting his second grandchild in August.
His parents are gone now, but he last visited his sister in Brandon in 2015.
He certainly noticed how things changed after hockey took him away from the Wheat City.
“We loved to play hockey and we got a chance to do it at a very high level on a junior team in the town that you lived in, which was very special,” Boschman said. “And then on top of it, we had a very good team so we had more good memories than bad memories. We were not a Brandon team that got pounded every night like I was when I played with the Ottawa Senators that first year. When you get to the NHL, you recognize that there is a lot more pressure and there are a lot more people down at the rink every day covering you and asking why you why you haven’t scored in five games. It’s not as prevalent when you play junior.
“You realize in a hurry that it’s still a great sport but it’s a business and you have to be able to perform or else you’re not going to be there very long. That’s the big difference.”