On Tuesday, August 18, Dale Hawerchuk passed away peacefully at the age of 57 with family members at his side, following a long battle with stomach cancer. As news of his death spread through the hockey world, shockwaves were felt far and wide.
Tributes from former teammates, players, friends, colleagues and staff members began pouring in by the hundreds. Despite most comments coming through social media, media availabilities were also held around the league, with opportunity for questions surrounding Tuesday’s news.
“So sad.” Tweeted former teammate Temmu Selanne Tuesday afternoon. “What a incredible human being. I’m thankful that Ducky was my friend and I had a chance to talk with him yesterday and say goodbye. This world is not the same place without him, Eric you can be so proud of your dad. Thoughts, love and prayers for all your family. RIP Dale.”
Fellow Winnipeg sports icon, Winnipeg Blue Bomber Chris Walby also took to Twitter to send out his message of support to the family of a man whom he had the privilege to get to know throughout the local sporting community.
“I am so sorry to hear of the passing of one of the great guys in Winnipeg Jets history,” Walby wrote. “I had the opportunity to share a few cold ones with him, and just want to express my prayers and sympathies to all the Hawerchuk family during this difficult time. God Bless.”
Brad May – who played with Hawerchuk in Buffalo following his nine seasons in Winnipeg – also spoke with Hawerchuk on Monday, and told Buffalo News about that emotional conversation.
“He reached out to a lot of his friends,” May said in the Buffalo News interview. “Maybe he didn’t get to everybody, but I had the pleasure of being able to talk to him last night. It’s very sad. His son called me and they were sitting in their living room. Of course he probably wasn’t doing very well but he sounded as good as ever. You didn’t even hear his voice being weak. We had a nice talk for 5-10 minutes and less than 24 hours later, he’s gone. It’s crazy.”
Shortly after the initial newsbreaking tweet from Hawerchuk’s son Eric, the Winnipeg Jets released the following statement:
“Dale Hawerchuk put Winnipeg and the Jets on the map the day he arrived in our city in 1981, and his love for our community and remarkable Hall of Fame career will keep it there for many generations to come. Dale had a relationship with our fans unlike any player in the history of our franchise. Whether at home or on the world stage, “Ducky” was embraced by so many, so often because of his humility and the grace by which he always carried himself. Dale was quite simply one of the finest human beings we have ever known that also just happened to be a superstar.”
Current Jets captain Blake Wheeler followed shortly thereafter, reminding fans who the “greatest Jet to ever play in this city” was, as well as commenting on how he will forever cherish the advice he has received from Hawerchuk over the years.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also released a statement following the moment of silence held for Hawerchuk prior to puckdrop in Tuesday’s opening round matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers:
“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,” the statement read. “Selected first overall by Winnipeg in 1981, he won the Calder Trophy to commence a brilliant, nine-season career with the Jets that ultimately led to his No. 10 being honoured by both the Jets and Coyotes. For his second act, upon being traded to the Sabres, he produced five superior seasons in Buffalo, where he also is considered a local hero.”
Finding the right words and actions in a time of tragedy is never easy, but Jets President and Chairman Mark Chipman did just that during a Zoom call with the local media.
“I was fortunate to see Dale come into the league,” Chipman said. “We were all still very much in awe of the fact the Winnipeg Jets had joined the National Hockey League. I think it was Dale’s arrival that really cemented the future of the franchise and I think we all have recollections of that first year, that Calder year and then everything that would follow.”
“He was truly a superstar as a hockey player,” Chipman continued. “But I think why he was so loved here was not just that, but 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. Those who got to know him would all say that as great of a player as he was, he was a better human being. He knew how regarded he was and I think he really cherished that and never took it for granted. Right to the end, he was always doing what he always did to make people feel good.”
Chipman then announced True North Sports + Entertainment’s current response to Hawerchuk’s passing – one that should leaving a lasting mark within the hearts of Jets fans forever. After hearing the announcement, Chipman and staff removed Hawerchuk’s No. 10 banner from the rafters of Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place, and have set the banner up publicly downtown at True North Square, as a way for fans to pay their respects to Dale, Crystal, Eric, Ben and Alexis Hawerchuk.
On top of the banner, Chipman – alongside Assistant GM Craig Heisinger – had been in conversation with Hawerchuk prior to his death about erecting a Dale Hawerchuk statue in Winnipeg, honouring the legacy he left behind. Although unable to see the project through, Hawerchuk was delighted to be informed of the plan, according to Chipman.
Back in late May, Hawerchuk’s hometown of Oshawa, ON. announced that a future park to be located at the former site of Donevan Collegiate Institute is set to be built under the name of ‘Dale Hawerchuk Park’. The park was unanimously approved by the Oshawa city council, and is slated to be erected for the spring of 2022 off of Harmony Road South in the new ‘Symphony Towns’ development.
The 57-year-old spent many years of his childhood living in Oshawa, attending the former Donevan High School, while also playing in the Oshawa Minor Hockey Association for the city’s Legionaires and Kinsmen.
A proud member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, ‘Ducky’ put up 518 goals, 1,409 points and 740 penalty minutes in 1,188 regular season contests, before adding another 30 goals, 99 points and 67 penalty minutes in 97 postseason games. Nine of his seasons were spent playing for the original Winnipeg Jets in the 1980s. He served as team captain from 1984-90, before moving on to play for the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers. Hawerchuk also earned two Canada Cup championships (1987, 1991) before turning his attention to coaching, where he stood at the helm of the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts for nine seasons, coaching the likes of current Jets forward Mark Scheifele.