Wooden sticks from a bygone era of hockey, battered pucks, photos, flowers and candles are part of a memorial taking shape at Winnipeg’s True North Square in honour of former Jets star Dale Hawerchuk.
“Dale Hawerchuk was someone all Winnipegers know and look up to. He’s probably one of our most beloved Winnipeggers,” said Susan Ainley, who stopped by the memorial on Tuesday.
A hall of fame NHLer who had a distinguished 16-year career in the league, Hawerchuk died this week at age 57 from stomach cancer.
A large banner that bears his number 10 and honours his induction to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame — and which typically hangs from the rafters inside Bell MTS Place — has been temporarily relocated to the outdoor plaza across the street from the Jets home arena.
“He’s what I remember from when I first started watching the Jets,” said John Skrypnyk, who was born in 1981, the year Hawerchuk was drafted first overall by the Jets as an 18-year-old rookie.
“He was what I remember looking up to as a hero. He’s probably the reason I’m a Jets fan today.”
Though he was born in Toronto, Hawerchuk was quickly adopted as a Winnipegger. He settled in the city where he met his future wife, Crystal, and could be seen at events year-round.
The news of his death left many fans shaken and nostalgic for the days when Hawerchuk captained the Jets and set records.
“It was sad yesterday when I found out, I had a bit of a moment,” said Ainley, who attended the game in November 2017 when Hawerchuk was inducted into the Jets’ hall.
She took home a miniature version of the banner that is now in True North Square. On Tuesday, she moved it to a more prominent position as a tribute to the man nicknamed Ducky.
“When I first heard, I didn’t have any words,” said Skrypnyk, who stopped by the memorial on his way to work Tuesday morning.
“I knew he was fighting cancer but you just figured he’s going beat this, Hawerchuk’s strong. When I heard he passed away, it just felt like a piece of your childhood died there.”
Skrypnyk said Hawerchuk personified what a true professional athlete is, not just talented while playing but a good person who also took the time to be involved in the community when he was off the ice.
Known as someone to never turn down an autograph request, Hawerchuk was also involved in many charity events.
“You could see he was a very humble person. He had that connection with the community that we all love to see in our heroes,” Skrypnyk said.
Both he and Ainley lauded True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Jets, for setting up the tribute in the plaza.
True North wasn’t the owner of the original Jets franchise, which moved to Phoenix in 1996 to become the Coyotes. Rather, they bought the Atlanta Thrashers and relocated the team to Winnipeg in 2011, reclaiming the Jets name.
“This is pretty amazing. I’m very glad they were able to do something,” Skrypnyk said.
“I’m happy to see them taking this on and understanding it doesn’t matter of its 1.0 or 2.0 [version of the team], it’s the Jets and Hawerchuk, for me anyway, is always going to be the best we ever had.”
By the end of his first NHL season, Hawerchuk had celebrated his 19th birthday and become the youngest NHL player in history to reach 100 points — a record only broken by Sidney Crosby in 2006.
He finished the year with 45 goals and 103 total points, won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year and was selected to the all-star game.
In his nine seasons in Winnipeg, he led the team in scoring every year and recorded 100 or more points in six seasons.
A blockbuster trade then sent him to Buffalo where he played with the Sabres for five seasons before finishing up with stints in St. Louis and Philadelphia.
Hawerchuk retired in 1997 with 1,409 points (518 goals, 891 assists) in 1,188 career regular-season games and another 99 points (30 goals and 69 assists) in 97 career playoff tilts.
He became the first player in NHL history to skate in 1,000 games before he turned 31.
WATCH | Memorial for Dale Hawerchuk:
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