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Same name, different game

Ben Hawerchuk brings famous family moniker to tryout with Manitoba Moose

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He proudly carries treasured memories of his late, great father in his heart. And now he’s brought the legendary family name back to a Winnipeg hockey rink for the first time in more than three decades.

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He proudly carries treasured memories of his late, great father in his heart. And now he’s brought the legendary family name back to a Winnipeg hockey rink for the first time in more than three decades.

A strange sight indeed. But a comforting one, as Ben Hawerchuk took his first laps on Monday at Bell MTS Iceplex as Manitoba Moose training camp began. The 24-year-old forward is here on a professional tryout, hoping to earn a spot on the American Hockey League club.

“It’s a good opportunity for me, personally, and to be back in Winnipeg where dad has so much history here,” Hawerchuk said, following an hour-long skate. “Same with my family, my mom (Crystal) is from here and she has family here. It’s nice to be here, it’s kind of like a second home to me. It’s nice to be home and I’m just going to try and make the most of this opportunity.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Ben Hawerchuk skates Monday during Manitoba Moose training camp at BellMTS Iceplex. The son of Jets’ legend Dale Hawerchuk appreciates the strong connection between Winnipeg and his family.

Unlike his famous father, Dale, who was selected first overall in the 1981 NHL Draft by the Winnipeg Jets and went on to have a Hall of Fame career, Ben Hawerchuk’s professional hockey path hasn’t been as smooth.

The 5-11, 198-pounder from King City, Ont., went undrafted, spending five years playing for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. (290 games, 67 goals, 69 assists, 136 points, 344 penalty minutes). Dale, of course, was his coach. He remained in that role until he died of stomach cancer in August 2020.

“It was definitely a special five years. Barrie, we kind of grew up near Barrie, too, so playing close to home, I know a lot of people there,” said Hawerchuk. “Having my dad there, too, was nice, especially because he’s not around anymore. That was a really good memory I have of me and him.”

After aging out of junior, Hawerchuk split the 2019-20 season with the University of New Brunswick (eight points in 13 games) and the Brampton Beast of the ECHL (three points in 14 games). He then spent last year with the Jacksonville Icemen of the ECHL, with 18 goals, 17 assists and 117 penalty minutes in 65 games.

“The (ECHL) is definitely a different league than the AHL, but we had some good staff down there that really put me in some good positions to put some numbers up and play a defensive role, a penalty-killing role. That’s what I’m going to try and bring to the table here,” said Hawerchuk.

“Definitely a little feisty,” he said. “I like to go into the corners and I’m not afraid to drop the gloves once in a while, but I have a good shot as well so I can put the puck in the net sometimes, too.”

Hawerchuk originally signed this year with a pro team in Italy, recording a goal and four assists in five games, before getting an invitation from Jets assistant general manager Craig Heisinger last month to Moose camp.

“I didn’t want to miss an opportunity like this. I would be regretting it for the rest of my life if I didn’t try,” said Hawerchuk.

He knows some will suspect his last name is what got his foot in the door, but Moose head coach Mark Morrison said Monday that’s certainly not the case.

“Absolutely 100 per cent not. This kid competes. And that’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to compete hard all the time, compete for jobs,” said Morrison. “All the information I’ve got, and we’re going to watch him in exhibition for sure, is that he plays a little bit different game than his dad did. He’s a mucker, grinder on the puck, comes out of the corners with the puck. We’ll see.”

Hawerchuk conceded there’s likely more of a spotlight that naturally comes with the territory.

“Maybe some guys might think I didn’t earn the opportunity. I definitely think I’ve earned it. I don’t think they give out tryouts just like that anymore,” said Hawerchuk. “It’s definitely a little pressure, but it’s good. I can handle it.”

His family is close with Jets star Mark Scheifele, who also played for Dale in Barrie prior to being drafted in the first round by the Jets in 2011. Hawerchuk said he got a chuckle when he was assigned Scheifele’s No. 55 for Moose camp.

Hawerchuk knows how much Winnipeg meant to his father, and how the feeling was very much mutual. He saw it first-hand on Saturday afternoon at an emotional public ceremony to honour Dale and unveil a statue of him at True North Square across from Canada Life Centre.

“It was crazy, with all the Hawerchuk jerseys. I’d never really seen that, because my dad retired when I was born. Just seeing that, it felt like he was playing still,” said Hawerchuk. “The statue is pretty spot on. It’s kind of crazy. The colours on it. It’s a beautiful statue. My family and I are honoured.”

Now, Hawerchuk is embracing this latest chapter in his family’s special relationship with Winnipeg, with the ultimate dream of one day making it to the NHL still in the back of his mind.

“That’s always the goal. You never want to throw that out the window,” he said. “Just one day at a time, come to the rink and chuck away.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcimtyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

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.

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