From Huskie Hockey to the NHL- Lori Boesch is an All-Star
By Ken Juba
There's an old joke where a tourist asks "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" The answer: practice, practice, practice.
Which brings us to Lori Boesch, who passes near the storied music hall almost daily as she heads to her office at the National Hockey League headquarters in New York City.
Boesch, who graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 1984, has been the NHL's Director of Special Events for the past three years. And how did she get to her 47th floor office on 50th Street and Sixth Avenue? Practice, practice, practice is a pretty good answer.
A dozen years ago, Boesch was already cutting a career in hockey special event planning. But in those days it involved doing whatever was necessary to keep the women's hockey team at the U of S afloat.
"We sold chocolate bars, programs at the men's hockey games for a commission, garage sales, anything,"recalled Boesch. "I don't think anybody ever saw me without raffle tickets in my hand".
It was enough to keep the program alive and competing in club tournaments against other universities. It was also enough to catch the attention of then-Huskies hockey coach Dave King.
Boesch was hired as a student assistant to King, who doubled as the campus recreation director. King described it as a "low-paying, hard-working job", which didn't scare Boesch one bit.
"When I saw her handle those Agros and Engineers and keep them in place," said King, "I know we were dealing with an exceptional person." King never forgot about Boesch when he left the U of S to become the head of Hockey Canada's national team. He knew she would be the right person to bring organization and direction to the rebuilding national program.
Boesch left a job with Federated Co-operatives, where she worked for 10 months after graduating, to take a six-month contract with Hockey Canada. She handled virtually every facet of the Hockey Canada operation: travel, insurance, trainers, sponsorships, passports. More than that, she was a "den mother" to the incoming players, helping them find apartments and set up bank accounts.
That six month contract lasted seven years.
Boesch left Hockey Canada in 1992, shortly after King left to join the Calgary Flames. It didn't take long for the NHL to come calling, eager to recruit her to head their special events division.
"It wouldn't be something anyone would've have guessed," said Boesch. "Sometimes I still can't believe it."
Boesch didn't foresee a future in hockey when she left the family farm near Gray to enroll at the U of S. She registered in Arts and Sciences and was entertaining thoughts of becoming a teacher like her mother. Her father graduated from the College of Agriculture in 1953 and her brother enrolled in Agriculture a year ahead of her. Going to university, specifically going to the U of S, was part of the family plan.
Through her involvement with St. Andrew's College, Boesch became active in a variety of intramural sports. She played hockey and basketball and volleyball and eventually became involved in the organizing and scheduling of those events. A career was born.
In her role with the NHL, Boesch oversees all aspects of the annual All-Star Weekend, the Entry Draft and the Super-Skills Competitions. She will spend the better part of the next six months shuttling between New York and Boston, where the league will hold its All-Star Weekend in February. In between those runs, she will oversee the individual skills competitions conducted by each team and work on details of the1996 Entry Draft being held in St. Louis.
While the travel and workload is demanding, Boesch expects this year's efforts to be infinitely more satisfying than last year's. She worked until December on an all-star game in San Jose that was eventually cancelled because of the labor conflict between the NHL and it's players' union. Although she said it was difficult seeing her plans scuttled and co-workers issued lay-off notices, she gained a clear understanding of the labor issues affecting professional sports.
"Coming at it from this side, seeing the business aspect, I can recognize why people are wanting to put some controls on those expenses,''said Boesch. "Looking at it one year past, things seem to be moving in the right direction. It's a tough thing for anybody to go through."
Boesch's headaches didn't end when the owners and players resolved their differences. The 1995 Entry Draft planned for Winnipeg had to be relocated on short notice after the Jets announced plans to look for a new city for their franchise.
"We were organizing a lot of events that weren't happening," she said. "It was frustrating."
All of which is making this year's events more exciting for her. A new arena will be the site of the All-Star game in Boston and St. Louis has a year-old, state-of-the-art facility for the Entry Draft. The troubles of last year are a distant memory and her job is once again as enjoyable as those winter nights selling raffle tickets in Louis'.
But these days her office provides a view of the sun setting over the Hudson River and free time allows her to enjoy the benefits of living in the Big Apple. "I'm definitely enjoying New York City, the theatre, all the things that happen here,'' said Boesch. "I'm a tourist at heart. I'm still entertained by a lot of things that longer-term New Yorkers take for granted. Everyday, walking to work, I still see something that brings a smile to my face."