Friends of hockey great Dale Hawerchuk are remembering him as an exceptional player on the ice, and a gentleman and family man off it.
The former Winnipeg Jet and Hockey Hall of Famer died at the age of 57 after a battle with cancer, his son Eric announced on Twitter Tuesday.
Hawerchuk was the Jets’ No. 1 draft pick in 1981, and was instantly a star.
It was in Winnipeg that he met teammates Thomas Steen and Laurie Boschman.
Steen remembers being able to tell right away how talented Hawerchuk was with the puck.
“It’s not just when you see him on home ice, it’s all the games on the road and all the travel we did,” he said.
“He was amazing, showing up night after night.”
Steen also recalled how Hawerchuk, born in Toronto and raised in Oshawa, Ont., took to Winnipeg right away. He met his future wife, Crystal, in the city, and could be seen at events year-round.
“He really embraced Manitoba, and made it home. He had the Jets emblem in his pool the first year,” he said.
“He was just a good good guy to be around. One of best teammates ever.”
Though clearly one of the Jets’ stars, Hawerchuk didn’t brag or boast in the locker room, Boschman said.
“Dale was more on the quieter side of things. He had a very nice, very sharp sense of humour,” he said.
Hawerchuk “liked to laugh and poke fun like all of us, but he wasn’t an in-your-face kind of individual in the dressing room,” said Boschman.
“He was more business. He came to play and played real hard.”
Hawerchuk was most recently a coach with the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League. Not all great hockey players make great coaches, Boschman said, but Hawerchuk seemed to be able to apply what he learned in the NHL to get the best out of players.
“I think because he knew the game well, he could translate that to these different players” he said.
“And of course the players would trust Dale because they knew what he accomplished as an NHLer. He was a Hall of Famer, and so that holds a tremendous amount of respect and credence in the dressing room when you’ve got a coach that not only has played the NHL but has excelled.”
After his nine seasons with the Jets, Hawerchuk played five more with the Buffalo Sabres, before ending a 16-year NHL career with stints in St. Louis and Philadelphia.
In a statement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman called Hawerchuk “a prodigy almost from the moment he first donned skates.”
“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.”
Hawerchuk was “truly a superstar as a hockey player,” Mark Chipman, chair of Jets owner True North Sports and Entertainment, told reporters at a live-streamed news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“But I think why he was so loved here was not just that, but largely the fact that he made this his home [here] and became one of us. I think everybody shared that sense of pride in Dale’s career as a player.”
The Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club, our players, our alumni, and our fans will miss Dale Hawerchuk dearly, and we will forever be inspired by his passion for the game, his commitment to his team, and his love for our community. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RememberingDucky?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RememberingDucky</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/HawerchukStrong?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#HawerchukStrong</a> <a href=”https://t.co/Vgj78TsSco”>pic.twitter.com/Vgj78TsSco</a>
As reaction from the hockey world and beyond poured in throughout the day, Winnipeggers CBC News spoke with Tuesday were heartbroken to hear about Hawerchuk’s passing.
“He’s an icon. Hockey in Winnipeg was built around him” said fan Chris Herday.
“He was an all-around great guy. He did so much for hockey and the community. He never shunned a fan. You can’t say anything bad about the guy.”
Several others took to Twitter to remark on Hawerchuk’s death and express their condolences, including Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
Our thoughts and prayers to the Hawerchuk family during this difficult time. All Jets fans mourn the loss of one of the NHLs all time greatest players <a href=”https://t.co/fjbJKRsKrK”>https://t.co/fjbJKRsKrK</a>
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