Dale Hawerchuk knows all about playing in a hockey-mad Canadian market. And the former Winnipeg Jet and hockey hall-of-famer would also add this — as this town gets labelled again as a small-market outpost in the wake of the latest Evander Kane trade rumours — with time it can grow on a player.
"There were a few guys that would come in and never gave it a chance," said Hawerchuk, the Barrie Colts head coach who is in Winnipeg helping with the Jets’ Development Camp. "And it’s like, ‘too bad for you.’ But there was a time when a lot of guys stayed here year round. We had 10-12 players who stayed here year round. That landscape’s changed a bit, but it doesn’t mean it won’t change as the team gets its roots going here again. Obviously, as an organization you do your best to get your players to love it. My short time being around here, they do everything first class so I don’t know why players wouldn’t love it.
"But there is an element to playing in Canada as well, the pressure. Living close to Toronto I see the media is very strong there. You have to learn how to handle that and sometimes not even look at it and stay focused in what you’re doing. As media you do your jobs, as players you’ve got to do your job, Sometimes you can get caught up in it too much, but you learn along the way. I’ve gone through ups and downs with that and it makes you stronger, it makes you better.
"I loved it here, I loved coming here as an 18-year-old," Hawerchuk added. "I felt like I pretty much grew up here. It’s always been special. Even after we moved on to Buffalo we still had a place in Gimli for many years and my wife’s from here so there’s some family here.
"There was nothing better than knowing that as an NHL player, no matter where you walked in the city, people were going to know who you were. So, you had better be proud of your accomplishments. That should push people."
The Jets continue to put 38 players through on-ice sessions, but also with a focus on off-ice preparation as well. On Tuesday night the players were at a cooking class at DeLuca’s and they also met with players to help them with a weight-training program.
"I didn’t really know what to expect coming into the camp," said defenceman Jack Glover, a third-round draft pick this June. "Obviously being drafted is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But then the work starts now and coming out here is the first step in realizing what I need to do to play at the next level and what the biggest things are that I’m going to need to work on in the next few years at (University of) Minnesota in order to come in here and make an impact one day."
The Jets’ D-Camp continues Thursday with two sessions at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.