Dale Martin Hawerchuk, hockey player, coach (born 4 April 1963 in Toronto, ON; died 18 August 2020). Dale Hawerchuk was the face of the Winnipeg Jets franchise in the 1980s. After winning two consecutive Memorial Cups, the highly skilled centre was selected first overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. He won the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, setting a record for most points by a rookie and became the youngest player in NHL history to notch 100 points. Often overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Hawerchuk played 16 seasons in the NHL and was a five-time All-Star. He ranks No. 20 and No. 21 among the NHL’s all-time points and assists leaders, respectively. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Early Life and Junior Hockey
Dale Hawerchuk was born to Eleanor (née Mitchell) and Orest “Ed” Hawerchuk, who was originally from a Ukrainian Canadian farmstead outside Wynyard, Saskatchewan. They lived in the Toronto neighbourhood of Rexdale, but soon moved east to Oshawa, Ontario, where Ed worked in a General Motors plant. Family lore has it that Dale was on skates at age two and playing organized hockey by age four.
As a Peewee player, Hawerchuk scored all of his team’s goals in an 8–1 victory to win a tournament in Quebec, breaking a record held by Guy Lafleur. Hawerchuk played Junior B hockey for the Oshawa Legionaires before joining the Cornwall Royals of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. (See also Canadian Junior Hockey.) At 16, he led the Royals to the President’s Cup championship by scoring 20 goals with 25 assists in just 18 playoff games. That season, Hawerchuk won the Michel Bergeron Trophy as the league’s top rookie and the Guy Lafleur Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. He also won the George Parsons Trophy as the most sportsmanlike player in the Memorial Cup tournament, where his team proved victorious.
He continued his torrid pace the following season, leading the league in goals (81) and assists (102). He received the Jean Béliveau Trophy as scoring champion (see Jean Béliveau), and the Michel Brière Memorial Trophy as most valuable player. The Royals repeated as league champions and as Memorial Cup victors; Hawerchuk won the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the tournament’s MVP.
Dale Hawerchuk was regarded as Canada’s top junior player and the top prospect in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. The Winnipeg Jets, the worst team in the league the previous season with a record of 9–57–14, selected Hawerchuk first overall. He was introduced to Winnipeg fans during a ceremony commemorating the club’s 10th anniversary at the famed downtown corner of Portage and Main on 13 August 1981. The 18-year-old sensation emerged from an armoured car to sign his contract in front of some 2,000 fans.
On the ice, Hawerchuk displayed an uncanny ability to anticipate a play’s development, leading to many scoring opportunities. At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds (1.8 metres, 83.9 kilograms), he relied on guile rather than size to evade opponents. An inelegant skating style earned him the nickname Ducky. A playmaker of uncommon puck sense, he also possessed an accurate shot. He was compared to Wayne Gretzky — another Ukrainian Canadian hockey star — from his first month in the NHL and would spend the entirety of his career in the Great One’s shadow.
Hawerchuk was a sensation in his debut season. He recorded 45 goals and 58 assists for 103 points, setting a record for most points by a rookie. It also made him the youngest player in NHL history to break the 100-point barrier, a record that stood until Sidney Crosby broke it in 2006. Hawerchuk was the runaway winner of the 1982 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
Hawerchuk showed great consistency as a goal scorer. He recorded seasons of 100-plus points in six of his first seven seasons in Winnipeg (the outlier was a 91-point season his second year in the league). He was also incredibly durable, missing only one game in those seven seasons. In 1984–85, he scored 53 goals and 77 assists for 130 points, a career high. He served as team captain that season, a title he held until 1990.
In Hawerchuk’s nine seasons with the team, the Jets failed to advance far in the playoffs, because they played in a division that included Gretzky and the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers. The best opportunity to do so came in the 1985 playoffs. The Jets had six 30-goal-scorers, finished the season second in the division behind Edmonton with 96 points (43–27–10), and entered the first round against Calgary on a 13-game unbeaten streak. After the Jets won the first two games of a five-game series, Hawerchuk was streaking through the middle of the ice in Game 3 when he took a vicious cross-check from Flames defenceman Jamie Macoun and suffered several broken ribs. The Jets advanced to the second round without him but were swept in four games by the Oilers.
A shy, private man, Hawerchuk lived on a farm outside Winnipeg (and later on a farm near Orangeville, Ontario). He often shirked the spotlight, choosing not to attend events or sign autographs. In a small-market city such as Winnipeg, where athletes of his calibre were rare, this was held against him by some. After Winnipeg fired general manager John Ferguson, who had drafted Hawerchuk and acted as a surrogate father to him, it was clear the star player’s time in Winnipeg was coming to an end.
Later NHL Career
On 16 June 1990, Hawerchuk was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for Scott Arniel, Phil Housley and Jeff Parker. The teams also swapped first-round picks in the upcoming entry draft. Hawerchuk spent five successful seasons with Buffalo, leading the team in playoff points in that time with nine goals and 25 assists in 30 games.
In 1995, he signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues. However, after a mid-season trade brought Wayne Gretzky to St. Louis, Hawerchuk was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Craig MacTavish.
Hawerchuk retired in 1997 after his 16th NHL season. He had scored 518 goals with 891 assists. He also recorded 99 points (30 goals, 69 assists) in 97 playoff games. In 16 seasons, his team had missed the playoffs only once. His was a five-time All-Star and a four-time nominee for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player (he lost to Gretzky three times and to Mario Lemieux once). He was also a three-time nominee for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the league’s most sportsmanlike player.
With the Jets often eliminated early from the playoffs, Hawerchuk became a mainstay on Canada’s national team at the World Championships every spring, winning bronze medals in 1982 and 1986 and a silver medal in 1989. He also played on Canadian teams that won the Canada Cup (now the World Cup of Hockey) in 1987 and 1991. In the decisive final game of the 1987 tournament against the Soviet Union, Hawerchuk won a crucial faceoff in the Canadian zone, starting a play in which Gretzky assisted Lemieux on what proved to be the series-winning goal with 1:26 left in regulation time. It is one of the most famous goals in hockey history.
In 2010, Hawerchuk became head coach and director of hockey operations for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. (See Canadian Junior Hockey.)
Hawerchuk was about to enter his 10th season behind the bench of the Barrie Colts when he announced he was stepping away from coaching to receive treatment for stomach cancer. His friends and family started an awareness and fundraising campaign on Twitter called #HawerchukStrong. In April 2020, he completed a chemotherapy regimen at a hospital in Barrie, only to be diagnosed with a recurrence in July. He died on 18 August 2020 at the age of 57.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman eulogized Hawerchuk as “an instant and enduring star who captured the hearts of two hockey-loving cities” in Winnipeg and Buffalo. Winnipeg hockey executive Craig Heisinger remembered Hawerchuk as a “low-maintenance superstar.”
To the surprise of many, Hawerchuk was not selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2000. He was inducted the following year in a class that included Jari Kurri, Mike Gartner and Viacheslav Fetisov. Hawerchuk was inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009, the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in 2011, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2013, and the Winnipeg Jets’ Hall of Fame in 2017. He is also a member of the Ring of Honor of the Phoenix Coyotes, which the original Winnipeg Jets franchise became, even though he never played a game for Phoenix.