The hockey world lost a legend of the game Tuesday. After a long battle with stomach cancer, Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk passed away at the age of 57, his son Eric announced on Twitter.
“After an incredibly brave and difficult battle with cancer, our dad has passed away,” Eric Hawerchuk wrote. “My family is so proud of him and the way he fought.”
Hawerchuk was a dynamic forward over the course of a 16-year NHL career that spanned four franchises; he showcased a game that included high-end skill, speed, some grittiness and a high hockey IQ.
Drafted first overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1981 draft, Hawerchuk immediately made an impact on the organization. In his rookie season, he potted 103 points (45 goals and 58 assists), captured the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie and led the Jets to their first-ever NHL postseason appearance. The previous season, the team was last in the league, thus earning the team the opportunity to draft him.
“I think it was Dale’s arrival that really cemented the future of the franchise,” Winnipeg Jets governor Mark Chipman told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “He was truly a superstar as a hockey player … and I think why he was so loved here was not just that but was largely the fact that he made this his home. And became one of us.
“I think everybody shared that sense of pride in Dale’s career as a player, and those who got to know him, I think, would all say that as great of a player he was, he was a finer human being. He was as advertised: that humble kid who came in here and did all his talking with his game and never lost that sense of humility, notwithstanding, a Hall of Fame career.”
MORE: Winnipeg Jets to honor Dale Hawerchuk with statue
In nine seasons in Manitoba, the Jets missed the playoffs once with Hawerchuk in the lineup. He netted 929 points in 713 games as “Mr. Winnipeg Jet,” including a career-high 53 goals and 130 points in an All-Star and Hart Trophy-runner-up (to Wayne Gretzky)1984-85 season.
A four-time All-Star in Winnipeg, Hawerchuk rewrote the franchise’s record books. While Shane Doan has supplanted him at the top of a few (with Arizona), Hawerchuk’s 12 hat tricks still stand atop the list.
At the 1990 draft, the Jets captain for six seasons was shipped along with the team’s No. 1 pick (Brad May) in a blockbuster deal to the Buffalo Sabres for Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and Buffalo’s No. 1 pick (Keith Tkachuk).
MORE: Twitter mourns Hawerchuk’s passing
New city, same Dale. In five years in Buffalo, he netted 385 points in 342 games and led the team to five postseason appearances. In 1995, he signed with the St. Louis Blues and was traded in March to the Flyers, where he finished his career with an All-Star Game and a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997.
By the time he hung up his skates at the age of 34 due to a degenerative hip condition, Hawerchuk finished with 518 goals and 891 assists for 1,409 points in just 1,188 games — good for 20th on the league’s all-time points list. He was the 23rd player to hit the 500-goal plateau and for 13 straight seasons recorded more than a point-per-game. Hawerchuk was inducted into the HHOF in 2001. His No. 10 was retired by the Jets/Coyotes franchise in 2007 and was raised to the rafters in Winnipeg in 2017.
Before joining the NHL, the Toronto native dominated junior hockey. With the Cornwall Royals (QMJHL) he nabbed the 1980 Rookie of the Year award with 103 points and led the squad to the Memorial Cup as the QMJHL playoff MVP (45 points in 18 games). The next season he went on a tear and scored 81 goals and 183 points in another Memorial Cup championship season. He was named the CHL’s player of the year and the Memorial Cup MVP.
Hawerchuk also was a key player for Canada during international tournaments. He was part of the 1982 and 1986 World Championship bronze-medal winning teams and the 1989 silver medalists. Skating alongside the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Hawerchuk took the faceoff that ultimately led to the famous Lemieux goal (from Gretzky) that captured the 1987 Canada Cup championship. He was also an integral player in Canada’s 1991 Canada Cup championship.
Just a reminder that it was Dale Hawerchuk who won the 1987 Canada Cup faceoff that kick-started the Gretzky-to-Lemieux game winner.
— Courtney Theriault (@cspotweet) August 18, 2020
Since 2010, Hawerchuk served as the coach of the Barrie Colts (OHL), coaching current NHL standouts such as Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets), Tanner Pearson (Vancouver Canucks) and Andrei Svechnikov (Carolina Hurricanes).
“I don’t know where I’d be, I guess, without him so very sad news today,” Andrew Mangiapane, who played for Hawerchuk from 2013-16 in Barrie, said following the Flames’ loss in Game 5. “I owe all my career basically to him, basically the whole Barrie organization.
“First of all, Dale was a fantastic human being, such a great person,” added teammate Rasmus Andersson, a member of the Colts from 2014-16. “My first week in Barrie he invited us over to his house and just welcomed me to Canada. I can’t say enough good things about him as a person and, obviously, a real good coach too.”
Last September, Hawerchuk stepped away from the bench citing health reasons. It was revealed in October he had stomach cancer. He finished chemo in April; in late July his son, Eric said on Twitter that his cancer had returned.
“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,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “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.”
Despite being overshadowed by the likes of Gretzky and Lemieux, Hawerchuk was a pure star and dominated the game at every level he played from the moment he first laced up the skates. He leaves behind a lasting legacy in Winnipeg, Buffalo and across the entire hockey landscape.
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