It's not very often that Dale Hawerchuk gets snubbed in the city of Winnipeg and even then it's almost always by accident.
Hawerchuk walked into a Winnipeg restaurant on Sunday night and bumped into a pair of new Jets, Zach Bogosian and Mark Flood, and the three started talking. Two young boys approached with pens and paper and asked the new Jets for autographs. Hawerchuk humbly stepped back and watched with a smile on his face.
The boys got their autographs and returned to their table, where their dad was ready to come out of his shoes with excitement. He hadn't noticed Hawerchuk until the boys walked up to the players, and hadn't included proper marching orders. No worry, he sent them immediately back and Hawerchuk happily signed.
"Isn't great to have the NHL back in Winnipeg?" Hawerchuk asked me a little later in a quiet corner of Earls Restaurant. "There was such a void in the city. I could feel it every time I came back. I'm so happy for the city and the people. And the players. They're getting an opportunity like no other right now. This is the greatest show on ice right now. Everyone is talking about Winnipeg and the Jets. It's just great to see."
Hawerchuk, currently the head coach of the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, is in Winnipeg for a few days to work on his annual charity golf tournament, and made it to Monday's game where he was greeted to a rousing ovation when shown on the scoreboard during the second period.
Here are some highlights from a chat with Hawerchuk:
Free Press: What's your favourite NHL team these days?
Dale Hawerchuk: Winnipeg. And I've never had a favourite since I retired. But you can't help but pull for them. Maybe because I came here at such a young age, you can't help but pull for them. It was very exciting that they came back. Watching that first game brought tears to my eyes.
FP: What's it like to walk into a bar or restaurant and see the Jets on TV?
DH: It's wild. You know, nobody recognizes me anywhere but in Winnipeg. Maybe a few hockey fans elsewhere, but not very often. In Winnipeg, it's everywhere. Coming here is so different. I wasn't always comfortable with that. The young guys here, they're gonna have to get used to it because I'm sure it wasn't the case in Atlanta. Seeing them on TV all the time, I love it. It grabs my attention. Just like they've grabbed all of Winnipeg's.
FP: How are Mark Schiefele and Ivan Telegin making out?
DH: Both kids are great kids and great talents and I think the Winnipeg Jets have got something special in them both. Ivan has a special talent. Pure, wicked speed. Speed like I've never seen before. He reminds of me of Yvan Cournoyer where he can take off and just be gone. Mark is a big, skilled centreman. He can put up numbers. The big thing for me is to make him a complete player. I want him to be just as good and dependable in his own end as he is in the offensive zone. They're both going to be very good NHL players.
FP: Can they play in Winnipeg next year?
DH: Maybe. My biggest thing with both of them is for them to have confidence. They need to be dominant at this level and then take it to the next level. It's one thing to be dominant in junior against boys and another to do it in a league against men.
FP: What do you think of Randy Carlyle coaching the Leafs?
DH: I'm not surprised he's become a successful coach because he was a battler as a player. He wasn't always the best player on the ice, and he was the best on lots of nights because he was a great player, but he always came to play and he expected everyone else to come to play. He attacked life and sucked the most out of every day. He was a sponge as a player, always trying to learn. Randy's always been hip, if that's the word for it. And he does his work. He works hard and is never looking to hide. He does what it takes.
FP: Do you want to coach in the NHL?
DH: I'm happy where I am now. I never like to go into anything without being prepared and I'm learning a lot right now. It's a lot of fun. Fifteen minutes before a game my feet start to sweat. I love it. I'm not worried about anything else right now. But the NHL? Who knows? Maybe someday.
The Dale Hawerchuk Charity Classic will be held June 28 at Elmhurst Country Club. Limited space is still available. For more information go to www.dalehawerchuk.com after April 1.
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