Hawerchuk legend looms large Son of late Jets star enthusiastic about club’s future as statue unveiling draws near
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MONTREAL — His legacy will live on in the form of a statue set to be unveiled this fall outside Canada Life Centre.
The family of the late, great Dale Hawerchuk has no doubt he’d love what’s going down inside the rink these days with the hockey club with which his Hall of Fame career began.
New head coach Rick Bowness and new associate coach Scott Arniel have a rich and storied history with “Ducky,” who died of stomach cancer in August 2020 at the age of 57.
“I know Dale would be really happy to see these guys running the show together,” Eric Hawerchuk told me on Tuesday. “Not only do they have such a strong connection to the city, they’re clearly among the best in the world at what they do.”
Bowness, 67, was near the end of his playing career in 1981 when the Jets made Hawerchuk the first overall pick in that summer’s draft. Bowness returned to the organization to coach Hawerchuk, first as an assistant for three years (1984-87) and briefly as interim head coach in 1989.
The working relationship blossomed into a deep friendship and mutual admiration spanning four decades.
“He and my dad used to talk often. Dale always only had great things to say,” said Eric Hawerchuk, who got to spend some quality time with Bowness this past February in Arizona.
“I didn’t know Rick personally very well until the past couple years. We played some golf together during the All-Star break. It was great to catch up with him,” Eric Hawerchuk said.
No doubt plenty of hockey observers recall the sight of Bowness, coaching the Dallas Stars inside the Edmonton bubble, standing on the bench in tears as a video tribute played to Hawerchuk on the day of his passing.
“He (Rick Bowness) and my dad used to talk often. Dale always only had great things to say.” – Eric Hawerchuk
“I wasn’t much of a player so I always had great admiration for his skills,” Bowness said at the time. “The year we drafted him, back in ’81, I was just a journeyman hockey player. But when he stepped on the ice with us prior to the (season), during those scrimmages during training camp, he was 18 and I said, ‘Wow, this kid is the real deal, and he’s going to turn that franchise around.’ Which he did. Then, you get to know him as a person. There are elite athletes and elite people, and Dale was both.”
Bowness’s club ultimately made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now, after stepping down after three seasons with the Stars, Bowness is back in the city where his decorated NHL coaching journey began.
“I was really happy to hear Rick got the job. He’s a great guy and a great leader. The players seem to love him everywhere he goes,” said Eric Hawerchuk.
As for Arniel, he and Hawerchuk were junior teammates with the Cornwall Royals for two Memorial Cup seasons — Hawerchuk had 183 points in 1980-81, while Arniel had 123 — and he was drafted by the Jets the same year as Hawerchuk, exactly one round later (22nd-overall).
They broke into the big leagues the following season and were Jets for five years until Arniel went to Buffalo. The bond was never broken.
“Scotty has been around our family forever,” said Eric Hawerchuk. “He was a groomsman at my parents wedding, and our families have always stayed in touch.”
One of the last people Dale spoke to prior to his death was Arniel, in a Facetime conversation to essentially say goodbye. Arniel most recently served as an assistant coach in Washington.
No doubt there’s some disappointment within True North, along with the Jets fan-base, that they couldn’t land their top coaching target in Barry Trotz. The Dauphin native, who won the Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018 and was fired after this past season by the New York Islanders, has decided to step away from the game for at least a year to focus on his family.
Eric Hawerchuk believes “Plan B” couldn’t have worked out any better for the organization.
“To me, hiring these two together has potential to be a serious home run. They’re both great men who live and breathe hockey,” he said.
“I’ll be watching every game and really looking forward to getting this season started.”
Eric Hawerchuk will get his first up-close look at the Bowness and Arniel-led Jets on Oct. 1, when he and the rest of his family attend Winnipeg’s pre-season game against Edmonton.
The monument will be officially unveiled that night, and fans will also get a commemorative Hawerchuk coin as a keepsake.
“I haven’t seen the statue in person yet, but I can’t wait. This is such an incredible honour for our family, and we can’t thank the Jets enough,” he said.
“I haven’t seen the statue in person yet, but I can’t wait. This is such an incredible honour for our family, and we can’t thank the Jets enough.” – Eric Hawerchuk
Hawerchuk will also get the chance to catch up with Bowness, Arniel and the rest of the Jets organization this week in Montreal. He’s attending the NHL draft on Thursday and Friday as an aspiring player agent. He’s also doing the same in the golf world, having competed on the PGA Tour Canada for several seasons.
“I’m ready to dive right in, work really hard and see where these roads lead,” said Hawerchuk, who has been the leading force behind the Hawerchuk Strong fundraising movement in his father’s name, along with his mother, Crystal, sister, Alexis and younger brother, Ben, who is currently playing professional hockey and is signed with a team in Italy for the upcoming season after playing last year with Jacksonville of the ECHL.
“I’m ready to dive right in, work really hard and see where these roads lead.” – Eric Hawerchuk
No matter where their careers take them, Hawerchuk said a major part of their world remains in Winnipeg. And this week’s developments have only strengthened that connection.
“With the Jets, I think the future is very bright,” he said. “A coaching change midway through the season last year put everyone in a tough spot but you go through those growing pains to get to times like now. I think there’s a new buzz in the city from talking to friends and family. It’s an exciting time for sure.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Tuesday, July 5, 2022 8:41 PM CDT: Fixes typo