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This article was published 14/11/2017 (1411 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Dale Hawerchuk is firmly entrenched in middle age now, but the years peeled away and memories flooded back Tuesday night as the Winnipeg Jets inducted the club's biggest 1980s star into their Hall of Fame.
"I was so proud to be a Winnipeg Jet," said 54-year-old Hawerchuk prior to a banner-raising ceremony at the start of the Jets' game against the Arizona Coyotes at Bell MTS Place. "Everything about our team and our community — I was always pumped. It was good to be here. There's ups and downs, and there's good, bad press. But you know what, you push through it.
"For me, this was a special place. I would have loved to have won a (Stanley) Cup here. I've won Memorial Cups, Canada Cups. But if I was going to win a Stanley Cup, it would have been here. This would have been the place to do it. I hope I see it here one day."
Hawerchuk scored 518 goals and registered 1,409 points in 1,188 regular-season NHL games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001. He played nine seasons in Winnipeg before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres before the 1990-91 season.
Hawerchuk, nicknamed Ducky, is also scheduled to be the guest of honour at the club's Hall of Fame luncheon today at the Fairmont Hotel, which is only a short walk from where he originally signed with the Jets 1.0 at the historic corner of Portage and Main.
The Jets established their Hall of Fame in 2016 to recognize outstanding contributers to the city's hockey history. The three members of the legendary Hot Line, consisting of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, were the inaugural inductees in 2016. Nilsson and Hedberg were on hand Tuesday to welcome Hawerchuk into the HOF club.
Hawerchuk was asked to pick a favourite moment from his career, but couldn't specify one.
"Every day being in the NHL, man," said Hawerchuk, a Toronto product. "I was the only guy on my street that made it. We all wanted to make it and I happened to be the guy that made it. To come here and play and practise, you know, it was so special… A lot of good memories here. Your first game, your first goal, winning a playoff round, the white-outs, scoring the 50th here. A lot of great moments but disappointing when we had that great team, beat out Calgary and lost to Edmonton and I had to watch, you know. I had broken ribs. That was a tough time."
Drafted first-overall in 1981, Hawerchuk was an immediate success in Winnipeg, scoring 45 goals and 103 points while winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie and leading the team to its first post-season berth.
"My first year with that team, I don’t think people thought we were going to be that great and we proved a lot of people wrong that year and I think the record for the biggest turnaround in one season," said Hawerchuk. "I’m not sure it still stands but that was a pretty special group. As a whole and as a team, we embraced the city. A lot of guys spent the whole year here. You know what, when you’re involved in the community and invested like the guys were, you’re going to give it your all every night.
The 1984-85 edition was special and it was particularly heartbreaking for Hawerchuk, sidelined after an infamous cross-check from Jamie Macoun of the Calgary Flames, to lose to the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the playoffs.
"It can get lost when you don’t win," said Hawerchuk. "I think that team had a way of finding ways to win but it seemed like we could get offence from so many guys and we weren’t a one-trick pony, and I think that’s what made that group special. Our goaltending was unbelievable. It was a good group. A tight-knit group…
"As painful as it was (to watch the Edmonton series), it hurt even more because you felt like we’re not that far off from winning this thing. It seemed like we were a goal, half goal off every night… it tears at your heart for sure."
The Macoun hit remains an open wound for many fans of that era.
"You know what, it wasn’t real dirty but it definitely was a penalty and there was no penalty," said Hawerchuk. "He knew I had him beat wide and the last minute he’s like, I can’t let this guy go around me and score a goal here or he might not get back on the ice. It happened to catch me under the shoulder pads and if he catches the shoulder pads, I’d probably be OK and move on. That’s the game, man. It’s a battle and grind every night."
Hawerchuk is a rare case of an elite player who has also establilshed himself as a fine coach. His Barrie Colts are currently leading the OHL's Central Division with a 12-4-1-1 record.
"I guess maybe I never looked at myself as an elite player," said Hawerchuk. "I wanted to get better every day. I wanted to win every night, do whatever it took. I'm kind of the same way as a coach. I'm always looking for ways and answers. You never quit learning...
"I'll listen to people. That doesn't mean I'll always use it, but I like to hear the information. That's one thing about living here in Winnipeg. Once we got (outside) the rink, I got a lot of opinions from people, let me tell ya."
Barrie's head coach, who once tutoured current Jets star Mark Scheifele with the Colts, is content in his development role.
"Right now I'm happy where I am," he said. "I love teaching the kids and seeing guys like Mark Scheifele turn out over time. He's so mature now. I'm happy for those guys.
"A lot of people helped me along the way. So if I can help kids achieve their dreams, I feel like I'm giving back. You get guys like Mark come along who are pretty special. I want all my guys to succeed. I know it's not going to happen. But if they don't succeed in hockey they're going to succeed in life. We try to teach them to be the best hockey player they can be, but we also want them to be good people."
Hawerchuk was asked if he ever replays the final play of the 1987 Canada Cup, in which he won the draw in his own end to trigger the Canadian rush that resulted in Mario Lemieux's game-winner over the Russians. The Jets captain may have also interfered with Slava Bykov as he scrambled to get back into the play.
"A little bit. Mike Keenan was the coach, and he pulled (Mark) Messier off and had me go out. I looked at Wayne (Gretzky), and I looked at Mario, and they were, like, 'No, we're not taking the draw.' So I just said to Mario, 'Look, I'm going to tie him up, I'm not losing it clean. And that's usually the case for the inside winger to come in and help out on the puck, which he did a pretty good job of.
"He got it up to Gretzky, and I think it was (Igor) Kravchuk pinched, and Bykov was trying to get back. And I'll go to my grave saying he dove."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.