Dave Babych clearly recalls the champagne flowing freely at the home of then-Winnipeg Jets owner Barry Shenkarow.
He was a 19-year-old NHL rookie defenceman and hadn’t sipped much of the bubbly before.
The Jets certainly weren’t bending their elbows to celebrate a Stanley Cup victory (insert laughs here), a division title or even a lone playoff-game triumph.
They were rejoicing after finally halting a 30-game winless skid that lasted more than two months in late 1980.
"Shenkarow invited a bunch of the guys to his place, and it was Dom (Perignon), too. He wasn’t messing around. It wasn’t Baby Duck," Babych, 57, said Tuesday.
Winnipeg beat the equally lousy Colorado Rockies 5-4 at Winnipeg Arena on Dec. 23, just the team’s second win of the 1980-81 campaign.
The squad had dumped the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 17 and then earned seven ties to go with 23 defeats before the streak came to a merciful conclusion.
Babych had been drafted second overall that summer after a brilliant junior career with the Portland Winter Hawks and was pressed into heavy duty with the sad sack Jets, in just their second year in the NHL and just a year removed from having their personnel gutted during expansion.
The team finished with a 9-57-14 record.
"I do remember how tough it was that season. The worst part wasn’t the nine wins, it was that streak. I remember right up from the penalty box, there were people that had bags on their head. And those bags must have gotten stinky because they were wearing them a long time," said Babych, who lives in Vancouver but is in Winnipeg this week to promote the Hockey Helps the Homeless tournament, set for December.
"When Colorado came in, they were the second-worst team in the league. (ABC’s) Wide World of Sports was there, it was a big deal, because we could end what felt was like the longest winless streak in pro history. Well, we end up winning and the bags were all thrown on the ice, people were going crazy and I’m thinking ‘Oh man, what’s going to happen if we really win something? This is pretty good.’"
Babych played five seasons with the Jets 1.0 and things improved dramatically for the organization during that time when the likes of Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, Paul MacLean, Laurie Boschman and Randy Carlyle arrived on the scene.
But just 19 games into the 1985-86 season, Winnipeg’s general manager, the late John Ferguson Sr., pulled off what is widely considered one of the worst trades in Jets history. He sent the top-pairing blue-liner to the Hartford Whalers for Ray Neufeld, a Manitoba-born forward who would go on to score 61 goals in 249 games in a Winnipeg jersey.
Babych was alerted to the deal moments after a 3-1 win over the visiting St. Louis Blues in late November 1985.
"I was in Winnipeg almost six years and they were terrific. I certainly didn’t plan on getting traded, but it happens. I could have easily stayed here forever," he said.
"I found out after the game. (Head coach) Barry Long says, ‘Hey, Fergie wants to see you upstairs.’ I thought that was so strange. We just won a game. I didn’t think anything of it. I thought maybe we’d go for a couple of beers.
"It wasn’t quite like that. I went for a couple of beers but it wasn’t for any good reasons."
Babych played 1,195 regular-season games over 19 seasons, split between Winnipeg, Hartford, the Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings. He finished with 142 goals and 723 points, while adding 21 goals and 62 points in 114 playoff games.
A career highlight, he said, was getting to play with his older brother, Wayne, in Hartford. The former 50-goal scorer was acquired by the Whalers a few months after Dave came over from Winnipeg.
"When we got to play together, it was nice. He’s your brother and you know him, but I got to know him as a teammate," said Dave.
"We have one picture of us together, both in our Hartford jerseys, and that’s when I set up his first goal with us that year.
"It’s really special to have."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at 11:14 PM CDT: Updates photo caption.