Dale Hawerchuk arrived in Winnipeg 39 years ago, a slender teen carrying the weight of a city’s hockey hopes and dreams on his shoulders. He became an instant smash, and the love affair between Winnipeg Jets fans and the kid from Toronto began.

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This article was published 18/8/2020 (309 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dale Hawerchuk arrived in Winnipeg 39 years ago, a slender teen carrying the weight of a city’s hockey hopes and dreams on his shoulders. He became an instant smash, and the love affair between Winnipeg Jets fans and the kid from Toronto began.

"There’s no denying it, he was the man in that town," former teammate Dave Babych recalled Tuesday. "We knew things were going to turn around with our team, but not as drastically as when Dale came. It was instant.

"We had someone that could change the outcome of a game any time... he deserved all the attention he got. It was a special time for the people of Winnipeg — they got to see a guy at the start of an incredible, hall of fame career."

Dale Hawerchuk signs his first NHL contract at the corner of Portage and Main with Jets GM John Ferguson. (Jim Wiley photo / Winnipeg Free Press files)
 -  Dale Hawerchuk 1963-2020
Dale Hawerchuk signs his first NHL contract at the corner of Portage and Main with Jets GM John Ferguson. (Jim Wiley photo / Winnipeg Free Press files) -
An undated photo of Hawerchuk in a game at Winnipeg Arena. (Ken Giglioitti / Winnipeg Free Press files) -
An undated photo of Hawerchuk in a game at Winnipeg Arena. (Ken Giglioitti / Winnipeg Free Press files) -
Hawerchuk playing against the Colorado Rockies in his first NHL season in 1981. (Ken Giglioitti / Winnipeg Free Press files) -
Hawerchuk playing against the Colorado Rockies in his first NHL season in 1981. (Ken Giglioitti / Winnipeg Free Press files) -
Hawerchuk in a game against the Colorado Rockies in his first NHL season. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files) -
Hawerchuk in a game against the Colorado Rockies in his first NHL season. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files) -
Hawerchuk in October 1982. (Ken Giglioitti / Winnipeg Free Press files) -
Hawerchuk in October 1982. (Ken Giglioitti / Winnipeg Free Press files) -

Hawerchuk, 57, who played nine seasons in Winnipeg and achieved superstar status in the NHL, died of cancer Tuesday. He had recently finished chemotherapy, only to have scans last month reveal the disease had returned, more aggressive than ever.

Babych was able to have a final phone chat Monday with his friend. "It was difficult, but I was happy I got that chance because we all know what he was going through. He said he was at peace with things."

Tributes

WINNIPEG JETS:

"Dale Hawerchuk put Winnipeg and the Jets on the map the day he arrived in our city in 1981, and his love for our community and remarkable hall of fame career will keep it there for many generations to come. Dale had a relationship with our fans unlike any player in the history of our franchise. Whether at home or on the world stage, 'Ducky' was embraced by so many, so often because of his humility and the grace by which he always carried himself. Dale was quite simply one of the finest human beings we have ever known that also just happened to be a superstar. The Winnipeg Jets hockey club, our players, our alumni, and our fans will miss him dearly, and we will forever be inspired by his passion for the game, his commitment to his team, and is love for our community."

WINNIPEG JETS:

"Dale Hawerchuk put Winnipeg and the Jets on the map the day he arrived in our city in 1981, and his love for our community and remarkable hall of fame career will keep it there for many generations to come. Dale had a relationship with our fans unlike any player in the history of our franchise. Whether at home or on the world stage, 'Ducky' was embraced by so many, so often because of his humility and the grace by which he always carried himself. Dale was quite simply one of the finest human beings we have ever known that also just happened to be a superstar. The Winnipeg Jets hockey club, our players, our alumni, and our fans will miss him dearly, and we will forever be inspired by his passion for the game, his commitment to his team, and is love for our community."

NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN:

“The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Dale Hawerchuk, an instant and enduring star who captured the hearts of two hockey-loving cities, represented his country with class and distinction, and is one of the most decorated players in our game’s history.

"A prodigy almost from the moment he first donned skates in his native Toronto, the precocious Hawerchuk immediately dazzled at every level — from a legendary performance at the Quebec pee wee tournament to leading Cornwall to his first of two Memorial Cup titles as a 17-year-old to being named Memorial Cup MVP and Canadian major junior player of the year in 1980-81. Selected first overall by Winnipeg in 1981, he won the Calder Trophy to commence a brilliant, nine-season career with the Jets that ultimately led to his No. 10 being honored by both the Jets and (Arizona) Coyotes. For his second act, upon being traded to the Sabres, he produced five superior seasons in Buffalo, where he also is considered a local hero.

"A revered leader whose commitment to charitable causes was tireless, Hawerchuk also was a force on the world stage, playing a pivotal role for Canada in both of its 1987 and 1991 Canada Cup triumphs. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, Hawerchuk was in the midst of a similarly successful post-playing career as a coach and director of hockey operations of Barrie of the OHL when he became ill and was taken from us far too soon. We send our condolences to his wife, Crystal; their three children, Ben, Eric and Alexis; and countless teammates and fans who were fortunate enough to see him play and call him a friend.”

HOCKEY CANADA:

"Dale Hawerchuk was everything we look for at Hockey Canada. His love for the game and love to compete — as a player, coach and person — was unrivalled. We will miss him."

WINNIPEG MAYOR BRIAN BOWMAN:

"Winnipeg is mourning today. Our thoughts are with the Hawerchuk family as a true Winnipeg Jets icon has been lost. Dale was a leader on and off the ice and we’ll always treasure the nine seasons we were fortunate enough to witness firsthand. Rest in peace No. 10."

HOCKEY HALL OF FAME:

"The Hockey Hall of Fame and its members are greatly saddened by the news of Dale Hawerchuk’s passing and would like to extend our sincere condolences to his family during this difficult time."

DON CHERRY:

"Sad to hear the news about Dale Hawerchuk, one the most underrated players ever in the game. RIP Dale."

FORMER JETS LINEMATE BRIAN MULLEN:

“Just thinking about all the time I spent with Dale, all the good times we had in Winnipeg. And now seeing it come across the TV, ‘Hawerchuk died at age 57,’ that’s way, way too young to go. It’s a tough pill, for sure. This was a guy who was just a joy to be around. It’s so terrible for his family, and a really big, big loss for the hockey world.

"From Day 1 when I arrived in Winnipeg, he treated me like we’d been teammates our whole lives. He bought a big house, and me and Scott Arniel wound up living him. The three of us had so much fun together. I can remember me and Paul (MacLean), we’re seventh-round draft choices and we’re playing with a No. 1 pick. How lucky were we? Dale told us, ‘Just go to the net with your stick on the ice and I’ll get you the puck.’ And that was no lie. When we were open, he’d deke everybody out, including the goalie, and give us an open net so we couldn’t miss.”

CAROLINA HURRICANES FORWARD ANDREI SVECHNIKOV, WHO PLAYED FOR HAWERCHUK IN BARRIE:

"Keeping Coach Hawerchuk's family in my thoughts and prayers. You're always in my heart."

COLORADO AVALANCHE FORWARD NAZEM KADRI:

"Rest in paradise, Dale. My thoughts and prayers with the entire Hawerchuk family, his legacy will never be forgotten."

Tributes immediately began pouring in for the Hockey Hall of Fame member (Class of 2001) affectionately known as "Ducky."

"My family is so proud of him and the way he fought," Hawerchuk's son, Eric, wrote on social media. He is also survived by wife Crystal, son Ben, and daughter Alexis.

"My thoughts are with the Hawerchuks. Dale is the greatest Jet to ever play in this city. I will forever cherish the advice he has given me over the years," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said on Twitter.

"So sad. What a incredible human being. I’m thankful that Ducky was my friend and I had a chance to talk with him yesterday and say goodbye. This world is not same place without him... RIP DALE," former Jets superstar Teemu Selanne posted on social media.

Hawerchuk was selected first overall by the Jets in the 1981 draft, winning the Calder Trophy as top rookie and bringing immediate improvement to a sad-sack squad coming off a nine-win season.

He scored 379 goals and added 550 assists with the Jets, before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres in the summer of 1990. He played seven more seasons in the NHL with the Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers.

Hawerchuk finished his pro career with 1,409 points (518 goals) in 1,188 regular-season NHL games. He scored 99 points in 97 career playoff games.

"He was as advertised — that humble kid who came through here and did all of his talking with his game and never lost his sense of humility, notwithstanding a hall of fame career. Right to the last couple of days, he just was Dale. Obviously, I think we'll all remember his achievements on the ice, but I'm just going to remember him as a wonderful friend," Jets co-owner Mark Chipman said Tuesday.

The organization quickly moved to memorialize Hawerchuk, taking his Jets hall of fame banner down from inside Bell MTS Place and displaying it publicly at downtown True North Square. Other future tributes are planned, including a statue, which Chipman told Hawerchuk about in a telephone conversation last week.

"He was somewhat overwhelmed, and as you'd expect from him, he was really humbled by it. I don't have a timeline on exactly when that will occur... but I'm really pleased we were able to share that with Dale and that we'll be able to memorialize his incredible career and the impact he had on this community in a significant way," said Chipman.

"We had someone that could change the outcome of a game any time... he deserved all the attention he got. It was a special time for the people of Winnipeg – they got to see a guy at the start of an incredible, hall of fame career.” – Former teammate Dave Babych

A two-time Memorial Cup winner with the Cornwall Royals, Hawerchuk went on to be a five-time NHL all-star. He also donned the Maple Leaf, winning two Canada Cup titles with Team Canada (1987, 1991) and playing in the world championships.

Hawerchuk also played a key role in organizing the 2016 Heritage Classic outdoor game in Winnipeg, which the Jets and Edmonton Oilers played at IG Field. An alumni game, with Hawerchuk and Wayne Gretzky as captains, overshadowed the main event.

"Dale came into the league with a lot of fanfare, and it was justified. He was a terrific junior player and then he came in and dominated the NHL for a long time," former Jets defenceman Randy Carlyle told the Free Press.

"Another guy that showed up in Edmonton (Gretzky) overshadowed a lot of the things Dale did. But the guys that played with (Hawerchuk) know how great of a teammate he was, how much of a contribution he made to the teams that he played on."

Hawerchuk continued to play a prominent role in the hockey world, coaching numerous current NHL stars during their junior years in Barrie, Ont.

"Dale was a humble guy. He was a regular guy. There was just what you saw was what he was," said Chipman. "He told me many, many times how proud he was to be a Manitoban — that he considered himself to be a Manitoban."

In an April 21 interview with the Free Press from his Ontario home, Hawerchuk described his health battle in detail. At first, he just wanted to live to see one more Christmas. Next, a family birthday early in 2020. Then, his 57th birthday in early April.

"When I was diagnosed last August, you're thinking, 'Man that's a long road.' When I first thought of it, it felt like a death sentence. But the more I looked into it, the more people I talked to, the more I realized this was a battle you could win. It was like competing again," he said.

He underwent two months of debilitating chemotherapy, which led to enough progress he was able to undergo surgery to remove his stomach Jan. 6. Once he had recovered, two more months of chemotherapy began, with the last round April 13. He got the feeding tube removed a couple of days later, and went for scans earlier this summer.

"It feels good to be at this point. I don't think this battle will ever be over, but life's a battle," said Hawerchuk.

Dale Hawerchuk is honoured before NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff action between the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars, in Edmonton, Tuesday.

JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Dale Hawerchuk is honoured before NHL Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff action between the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars, in Edmonton, Tuesday.

Babych said he'll always treasure his final chat with Hawerchuk.

"I was in contact with (former Jets blue-liners) Dave Ellett and Moe Mantha, and we were actually talking about planning a fishing trip with Dale when it seemed like he was getting better. When I talked to Dale (Monday), he said, ‘Well, we’ll just have to do it somewhere else… and don’t be in a hurry to get there,'" Babych said.

"He was struggling but he had his sense of humour... He was a friend for a long time, a great teammate, and just a great man who gave a lot to this world. There’s a hole in it, for sure."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca
Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca
Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
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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).

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Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
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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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