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Mark Scheifele believes Dale Hawerchuk put him on the road to hockey stardom, and Winnipeg's premier centre says the late Jets 1.0 superstar and hockey hall-of-famer still guides him in so many ways.
Hawerchuk, a hockey phenom who became the face of the Jets in the 1980s and went on to play 16 NHL seasons, died of cancer on Aug. 18. He was 57.
"I know he's up there watching down on me and all of us, and I know that's only going to push me to make him proud and make him know all his work wasn't worth nothing," Scheifele said during a show streamed on the team website Thursday that paid tribute to Hawerchuk, who played nine seasons in the Manitoba capital.
Scheifele was one of several people within the Jets organization who shared stories about Hawerchuk, including executive chairman Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, assistant-GM and former Jets 1.0 equipment manager Craig Heisinger and head coach Paul Maurice.
"He's going to be my guardian angel. He's been that ever since I met him when I was 17 years old and he's going to be there for the rest of my career and the rest of my life. I believe that whole-heartedly," added Scheifele.
Scheifele had a pair of sensational junior seasons with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League before being drafted in the first round (seventh overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft, and has amassed 180 goals and 444 points in 519 regular-season games with Winnipeg, plus 16 tallies in 28 playoff contests.
He's doing his best to model his career after his mentor.
"For (Hawerchuk) to have played in Winnipeg, for him to be such a legend in Winnipeg, it motivates me to be a better hockey player, to be at my best. It's almost like I want all his hard work on me to not go unnoticed. I want to have a legacy, I want to be looked at in the hockey world the way he was looked at, and I think that just pushes me even more," he said.
Scheifele, who hails from Kitchener, Ont., was selected by the Saginaw Spirit in the seventh round of the 2009 Ontario Hockey League draft. although his rights were dealt to Barrie in the fall of 2010. But the teen and his family had already made a verbal commitment to Cornell University, meaning he'd play a final year of junior B before heading south to begin his U.S. college career, instead.
Meetings with Hawerchuk, the Colts' newly minted head coach, changed all that.
"He's going to be my guardian angel. He's been that ever since I met him when I was 17 years old and he's going to be there for the rest of my career and the rest of my life." — Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele on his mentor, Dale Hawerchuk
"There's this thing called the Cottage Cup. So, (Hawerchuk) and their assistant GM came up to watch me play, and they talked to my mom. And on our way back we stopped in (at the Barrie arena) and had a meeting with them... I talked to Dale and it was almost like something clicked and I was like, 'Mom, I want to go play in Barrie. This is the guy I want to play for. There's no one else I'd rather play for than this guy.' That was after talking to him for an hour," said Scheifele.
"He was just so relatable. He went through it as a young player. He related to us players really well. I know from talking to a lot of buddies I played with in Barrie that he was every single guy's favourite coach. There's no guy that I've talked to that wasn't like, 'This is the best coach I've ever had.' He understood us all, he figured out a way to connect with us, not just on a hockey level, but on personal level. That's how he got the most out of us."
Hawerchuk played 1,188 career games in the bigs, split between the Jets (713 games), the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues. He finished with 518 goals and 1,409 points, including 379 goals and 550 points in a Jets jersey.
The tribute featured a top-10 list of Hawerchuk's accomplishments, including these memorable moments: the day he captured the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 1982 after firing 45 goals and setting up 58 others; a five-assist period in 1984 against the Los Angeles Kings; his 50th goal — a spinorama deke — against the Chicago Blackhawks late in the 1984-85 season, his defensive-zone faceoff win that sent Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux on a rush for the game- and tournament-winning goal in the 1987 Canada Cup; his Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 2001; and his induction into the Jets Hall of Fame in 2017.
Hawerchuk's involvement in the 2016 Heritage Classic weekend in Winnipeg, including the alumni game, was also a highlight of the show.
"He's moving around with all his old teammates, he's hanging around with the young guys, he knows Mark Scheifele. He was really, really happy here. He had a great weekend... you could feel it from him," Maurice said.
"It wasn't a fan event, in terms of something you gotta do. He was right connected with everyone in this city, everyone in our locker room, everybody in his old (teammates') locker room."
Cheveldayoff said he'll cherish the texts he shared with Hawerchuk in his final weeks.
"We were in the bubble (in Edmonton) and we just talked about the organization and making him proud," said the Jets GM. "And (Dale) said, 'You always make me proud.'"
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 Thursday, September 3, 2020 at 5:48 PM CDT: Adds photos and outtake
7:52 PM: Restores previous version for layout
9:19 PM: Fixes typo.
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