Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Iconic Jet has high praise for past

Ducky says honouring history a top priority

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He is just one voice -- a powerful voice, to be sure -- but Dale Hawerchuk has full confidence in the new Winnipeg Jets' ownership and their attempt to remember their legends and honour their past.

Even if that glorious past and important history is officially documented in Phoenix.

"I'm sure the ownership has had that conversation with the league," said Hawerchuk from Barrie, Ont., Friday. "I don't know what the perfect answer is, but that ownership seems intent on establishing that kind of history. I think it's important and it goes a long way. Sometimes it might not seem like much, especially in the first 10 or 20 years, but when you get 40 years down the road it looks pretty special."

Hawerchuk was weighing in during a week in which a simmering debate boiled over again when current Jet Evander Kane said he'd like to continue wearing the No. 9 he wore in Atlanta -- with the blessing of Jet legend Bobby Hull.

It's Hawerchuk's belief that remembering the past -- whether it is officially linked here or not -- is important for any franchise.

And, for the record, the Jets management has said they will do so, although they aren't being specific as to what that entails just yet.

So if current Jet Bryan Little wants to wear No. 10, Hawerchuk is cool with that. But he also has his fingers crossed all the men who wore the Jets colours in the franchise's first NHL incarnation aren't forgotten.

"It's not a big deal (if somebody wears No. 10)," Hawerchuk said.

"But I do think as a hockey fan, we love to remember the past players. You look at some of the organizations that have stood the test of time -- the Montreal Canadiens, the Toronto Maple Leafs -- Winnipeg doesn't have that kind of history, but you have to start somewhere. I know when I was playing in a Jets jersey I always envisioned Bobby Hull and Ulf (Nilsson) and Anders (Hedberg) flying around in their Jets jerseys. It's like a kid in Toronto growing up dreaming of being like Darryl Sittler, Wendel Clark or Mats Sundin.

"I'm a believer in the old jerseys as well," Hawerchuk continued. "All these teams that have tried different jerseys but go back to the originals -- Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, the Islanders."

 

A great example was the Buffalo Sabres and when they changed to the red and black... it was hard to envision the French Connection (Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert) flying around in those jerseys."

Hawerchuk's solution to the jersey debate, interestingly, is a simple one.

"If you've got two players who wore the No. 9, for example, with dignity and were ambassadors both on and off the ice then hang two jerseys," he said. "I know whenever we went on the road and saw all the legends and great names' jerseys hanging in the rafters it made it that much more nostalgic. You'd go into Toronto or Montreal and you saw that... it got you pumped up a little bit. I remember in Buffalo when they hung up Perreault's jersey and in Winnipeg when Bobby Hull's jersey was honoured and he came flying around in his old Jets' jersey. That was quite a moment. I'll never forget that.

"And when the Jets did honour me, that was truly a special day for myself and my family."

Most important for Hawerchuk & Co. is this: the NHL's return has essentially given all the players who wore the Jets' jerseys an opportunity to reconnect and, they hope, see those roots grow again here in Winnipeg.

"It's going to be a great organization," said Hawerchuk. "I'm hoping that 20 years down the road I'm still around and I can look back and be proud. I know when the word was out the Jets were back, a lot of us former Jets were emailing and texting each other. It was hilarious bringing up the old stories. It's a lot of fun and it's important to remember those times."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2011 C1

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