Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Maverick Hatskin stole Hull from NHL

Family wants city to honour puck pioneer

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Michelle Rahman was one of a small handful of people who was told Bobby Hull would be signing with the Winnipeg Jets six months before it happened.

Like the others in the exclusive group, she couldn't believe it. To be honest, she thought her Uncle Benny (Hatskin) was making it up, perhaps after having a pop or two.

"He told me, 'I'm going to do this.' I thought, 'he's got to be kidding, this can't possibly happen.' But he was dead serious. It was a business proposition for him. He knew who the best player in the world was and he was going to get him. He had the idea in his head and he executed on it," she said.

"He loved Winnipeg and he knew he could make a splash. You went big or you didn't go at all. He always went big."

Indeed, many hockey fans would argue the signing of Hull at the corner of Portage and Main on June 27, 1972, was the most seminal event in the city's sporting history. It was the day professional hockey arrived in Winnipeg and the WHA quickly transformed from a dream to the real thing.

A product of the North End, Hatskin challenged NHL contracts, which prevented any freedom of movement, saying they violated anti-trust laws. A U.S. judge eventually agreed, putting in place a free-agent system that is still used today.

Rahman, director of admissions at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, flew into town last week to visit her mother, Claire Pudavick, whose late sister, Ceci, was married to Hatskin.

As fate would have it, one of the other travellers on that flight from Chicago was Hull, who was coming to town to participate in several fundraising events for the Amadeus Steen Foundation.

Rahman was excited to read the story in Monday's Free Press about why the City of Winnipeg hadn't honoured Hatskin or Hull for their role in bringing professional hockey here. (It turns out, nobody had made a formal request at myo-mayor@winnipeg.ca.) She and her four siblings put an end to that.)

"Ben put Winnipeg on the map. Winnipeg should recognize that," Pudavick said.

Hatskin's family was always sad more wasn't done to recognize his role in bringing professional hockey to Winnipeg. (He was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame as a builder in 1985.)

Even Kelekis Restaurant, which had Hatskin's picture on its wall of fame for a number of years, eventually took it down.

"It was always sort of a sad thing. Getting a hockey team was such a big deal for this city but it seemed like he'd been erased," she said.

Despite its trailblazing ways, the WHA wasn't a money-maker and Hatskin lost a pile on the team, Rahman said.

After he sold the Jets in the mid-1970s, Rahman said Hatskin's health took a turn for the worse. He suffered serious injuries in a car accident in Palm Springs and eventually, he needed 24-hour care and was confined to a wheelchair.

"He was never the same (after selling the team). The light went out," Rahman said.

Hatskin died in November 1990, at age 73.

Two years later, he was inducted into the Citizens Hall of Fame, which was founded in 1986 by the WinnipegREALTORS Association.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Should the city honour Ben Hatskin by naming a street for him? Is there a better way? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2014 B1

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