Friends, family, fans throng downtown to see statue of Jets great
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Dale Hawerchuk’s legacy was celebrated Saturday in an emotional ceremony that brought hockey royalty and thousands of Winnipeg Jets fans together outside Canada Life Centre.
A statue in the Hall of Famer’s honour was unveiled in the heart of True North Square, aimed directly at the downtown rink.
“He always felt like Winnipeg was his home,” Hawerchuk’s wife, Crystal, told the crowd. “Now, he is home again, in Winnipeg.”
Hawerchuk died of stomach cancer in August 2020 at the age of 57. Dozens of family members flew in for the event, including his three children and his elderly parents.
“He inspired us all to be better people. Everybody loved to be around him. He was special,” said Crystal. “He gave our family a beautiful life. He made a difference in the lives of many. This statue is a testament to the giving life he lived.
More than a dozen former teammates and Jets 1.0 alumni were present, including Serge Savard, Dave Ellett, Randy Carlyle, Dave Babych, Paul MacLean, Scott Arniel, Laurie Boschman, Lucien DeBlois, Ray Neufeld, Randy Gilhen, Jimmy Mann, Jim Kyte, Brian Mullen, Tim Watters and Jordy Douglas. Former Jets owner Barry Shenkarow attended as well.
“He loved this city. He loved this province,” said Arniel, who first met Hawerchuk when they were teenage teammates in junior. They’d go on to win a pair of Memorial Cups together, then enter the NHL after both being drafted by Winnipeg.
“This is where Dale became the star that he was,” said Arniel, who is now the associate coach of the current Jets team. “He grew here as a hockey player. He grew here as as husband and father. He loved Winnipeg, he loved playing here, and it meant so much to him.”
Arniel shared a story about Hawerchuk, knowing he was near the end of his life, called to tell him that Jets co-owner Mark Chipman and assistant general manager Craig Heisinger had told him they were going to commission a statue of him. Arniel asked what kind of pose “Ducky” might want, whether it was celebrating a goal, taking a shot or making a slick pass.
“No, I’d like it to be of me backchecking,” Hawerchuk joked. “But Zinger said they can’t find any pictures of videos (of that ever happening).”
Current Jets centre Mark Scheifele was coached by Hawerchuk in Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League after a recruiting session that convinced him to not go play college hockey.
“Within five minutes (of meeting him) I knew he was the guy I wanted to play for,” said Scheifele. “I could just tell the love, the passion. It was the best decision I ever made, to come play for Barrie and Dale. He was the best coach I ever had, But he was an even better human.”
Scheifele said he drives down Hargrave Street on his way to the downtown rink every day, a trip which will now take on extra special meaning.
“Every day I now get to stop at the statue and remember all the lessons he taught me,” he said.
Former Jets forward Kris King, who now works for the NHL’s head office, said Hawerchuk was “universally admired by all in the game.” He recalled getting a call from Hawerchuk in 2016, asking him to play in the Heritage Classic Alumni Game between Winnipeg and Edmonton,
“When I got here I couldn’t understand why I was on a line with him and Teemu Selanne,” said King to great laughter from the crowd. “He wasn’t just your captain. He was one of you. He loved playing for the Winnipeg Jets. And he loved saying he was from Winnipeg.
“When I look at this statue, I’ll remember a legend.”
Paul Coffey, the Hall of Fame defenceman for the Edmonton Oilers dynasty, also spoke Saturday about the fierce rival with Hawerchuk’s Jets.
“This guy takes a back seat to nobody,” said Coffey. “You guys made us a better team. The only reason you probably didn’t win the Stanley Cup is because you were playing the Oilers.”
Chipman said Hawerchuk and his family “deserve the very best,” noting how the sculptor responsible for the statue, Erik Blome, has also done works of Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. Chipman made a visit to the man’s home in Illinois last summer to see the work in progress.
“We will always be grateful for the way Dale embraced us,” said Chipman. Hawerchuk’s family ultimately decided on the pose that would be captured by the statue, one he says has elements of skill, grace, aspiration and “always reaching for more.”
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.