Dale Hawerchuk, former Winnipeg Jets superstar and longtime Barrie Colts head coach, has died. He was 57.
His son Eric Hawerchuk posted on social media Tuesday afternoon that his father had passed away after a battle with cancer.
The Hall of Fame centre wore Winnipeg colours from ’81 through the 1989-90 season, and although he played his last game as a Jet 30 years ago, Hawerchuk has been on Manitobans’ minds in recent months due to his battle with stomach cancer.
On April 13, Hawerchuk finished his final round of chemotherapy in a Barrie, Ont., hospital, and at the time he told 680 CJOB it felt good to be on the other side of something he didn’t know he would survive.
“It’s kind of nice that from my first diagnosis at the end of August, that this was the original plan and I’ve arrived at the end of it,” he said.
Hawerchuk had surgery to remove part of his colon and his entire stomach, and there were a number of points, he said, where he felt like he was on his deathbed.
“At first, it really feels like a death sentence, and then you realize that this thing is beatable — a lot of people have beat cancer.
“My prognosis was not good. My surgeon was pretty blunt right at the start.”
Unfortunately, Hawerchuk’s family posted that his cancer had returned in July.
Former Winnipeg Jet Teemu Selanne said he had the chance to say goodbye Monday.
The Winnipeg Jets said fans would miss Hawerchuk dearly.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Hawerchuk “one of the most decorated players in our game’s history.”
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister also expressed his condolences.
“Our thoughts and prayers to the Hawerchuk family during this difficult time. All Jets fans mourn the loss of one the NHLs all time greatest players,” he posted on social media.
The Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers observed a moment of silence for the hockey great before their playoff game Tuesday.
“This is such sad news,” Morris Lukowich, who played with Hawerchuk on the Jets in the ’80s, told 680 CJOB Tuesday.
Lukowich described Hawerchuk as confident and with a “great energy.”
“He just loved a good laugh, and a good story.”
“He was so tough. He had an amazing wrist shot, an amazing slapshot, and incredible deking ability,” said Lukowich. “He was one of the top five players I ever played with.”
Lukowich said Winnipeg should remember Hawerchuk as a player who “showed up to play, all the time. For me, there was never a question about, ‘Was Dale going to show up?’
“He gave his very, very best, his best always.”
Broadcaster Curt Keilback, known as the radio voice of the Jets in the team’s original NHL incarnation, told 680 CJOB that Hawerchuk was beloved by Winnipeg.
“It seems like he grew up with this community,” Keilback said.
“He was only 18 years old when he came here. We witnessed the transition, the outstanding hockey that he played, and just all of a sudden, it ended so quickly.
“He’ll always be remembered in favourable terms by a lot of people in the hockey community, and I think everybody who was around Winnipeg in the ’80s.”
Keilback called Hawerchuk an outstanding player, particularly given his young age and the rough shape the Jets were in the standings at the time.
“The second game he played was in Winnipeg, and he got four points against the New York Rangers. You knew from that point… ‘hey, this guy was ready’.
“It’s usually more difficult to come to a bad team, because you’re expected to do everything — but he did everything.”
Keilback said Hawerchuk will be forever linked with Winnipeg, not only for his on-ice heroics, but for the way he embedded himself within the community, always making time for fans, spearheading charitable events, and acting as an unofficial ambassador for the city.
A teenage star, Hawerchuk was drafted first overall by the Jets in 1981.
Hawerchuk went to Winnipeg as an 18-year-old and spent nine years there, saying he felt like he grew up in the Manitoba capital.
The Jets had finished last in the league prior to drafting Hawerchuk, who signed his first pro contract before a bevy of Manitoba notables, including the mayor at the corner of Portage and Main, after arriving in a Brinks truck.
He did not disappoint. The teenager scored 45 goals and collected 103 points, was named rookie of the year — the youngest recipient at the time — and led Winnipeg to a 48-point improvement, the largest single-season turnaround in the NHL.
He was the youngest player in NHL history to reach 100 points, a record broken by Sidney Crosby in 2006. No wonder his early career came with comparisons to Wayne Gretzky.
“He has the same instincts, that puck sense, of Gretzky,” said Mike Doran, Winnipeg’s director of player personnel in 1981.
He went on to play nine seasons in Winnipeg and five in Buffalo before finishing up his distinguished 16-year NHL career with stints in St. Louis and Philadelphia.
In 1987, Hawerchuk made history with Gretzky at the Canada Cup in Hamilton. He won the faceoff in his own end that led to a Gretzky-Mario Lemieux rush and Lemieux’s famous winning goal in a 6-5 victory that decided the tightly contested three-game series.
“As highly thought of as he was as a player, to me he was still very underrated,” said Manitoba-born former NHL goaltender, Ron Hextall, who was a teammate of Hawerchuk’s at the 1987 Canada Cup.
“Just remember what a pro he was and just a terrific, terrific human being. Very sad day for the entire hockey world.”
Slowed down by a hip issue, Hawerchuk retired at the age of 34.
Hawerchuk recorded 518 goals and 1,409 points in 1,188 regular-season games (he added 30 more goals and 99 assists in 97 playoff games).
“A low-maintenance superstar,” said Craig Heisinger, the Winnipeg Jets senior vice-president and director of hockey operations.
At five-foot-11 and 190 pounds, Hawerchuk wasn’t blessed with size or blistering speed. But the five-time all-star had a knack of getting to loose pucks and then creating something out of nothing. Hawerchuk could breeze past opponents and knew what to do when he neared the goal.
Hawerchuk, the longest-serving coach in Colts history, was going into his 10th season behind Barrie’s bench. He had led the Colts to the playoffs in six of his nine previous seasons.
At Barrie, Hawerchuk coached the likes of Aaron Ekblad, Mark Scheifele, Tanner Pearson and Ryan Suzuki.
Born April 4, 1963, in Toronto, Hawerchuk grew up in nearby Oshawa, getting his first pair of skates at age two and playing competitively at four.
As a peewee, he broke Guy Lafleur’s record by scoring all eight goals in an 8-1 victory in the final of a tournament in Montreal.
At 15, he was offered a tryout by the Oshawa Generals. He ended up playing instead for the Oshawa Legionaires in the Metro Jr. B Hockey League in 1978-79.
Some 23 years later, he remembered his Oshawa days during his 2001 induction speech at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“I started my career just down the road in Oshawa here, maybe a 45-minute drive — well maybe a little further now with the traffic,” he said.
“I had many dreams and aspirations to make the National Hockey League. And I was very fortunate I got to live those dreams for 16 years in the National Hockey League.”
“I enjoyed every city and organization I played in,” he added.
Hawerchuk was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001 along with Viacheslav Fetisov, Mike Gartner and Jari Kurri in the player category.
Hawerchuk was inducted into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in November 2011.
Known as Ducky by his teammates, Hawerchuk was inducted into the Jets’ Hall of Fame prior to their game against the visiting Arizona Coyotes in November 2017.
“I’ve been to every part of (Manitoba), either golfing or playing (softball),” Hawerchuk said.
“I’ve gotten to see Manitobans, seen their passion not only for their province and the game of hockey, but their passion for the Jets. I’m honoured and I’m very humbled.”
-With files from the Canadian Press