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Dale Hawerchuk Goes Down Fighting: Jets Hall of Famer Loses Cancer Battle

Photo by Bruce Bennett

Dale Hawerchuk Goes Down Fighting: Jets Hall of Famer Loses Cancer Battle

The Hawerchuk family announced on Tuesday that Hockey Hall of Fame member and former Winnipeg Jets captain Dale Hawerchuk has passed away. Following nearly a year of ongoing stomach cancer treatments, the 57-year-old succumbed to his disease, while in the comfort of his loving family.

“After an incredibly brave and difficult battle with cancer, our dad has passed away,” Hawerchuk’s son Eric tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. “My family is so proud of him and the way he fought.”

In late July it was announced by Eric Hawerchuk that the longtime Jets legend was back fighting for his life just three months after the completion of his final round of chemotherapy in April of 2020.

“My dad is back in his fight against cancer due to a resurgence of this terrible disease,” Eric Hawerchuk earlier tweeted. “We are praying for him and he will continue to fight hard #HawerchukStrong.”

That difficult news followed Hawerchuk’s recent announcement of chemo completion back in mid-April for the stomach cancer that had taken a significant toll on the 57-year-old’s well-being. He rang the Bell of Hope while exiting the hospital in Barrie, ON. on April 13, to which 31-year-old Eric also commented on the hopes that that occurrence would be the final stage of his father’s journey.

Hawerchuk spent nine seasons playing for the original Winnipeg Jets in the 1980s. The Ontario product served as captain from 1984-90, before moving on to play for the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers during his illustrious 16-year NHL career. Averaging 42 goals and 103 points-per-season over his nine years with the Jets, Hawerchuk was rightly inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame on February 26, 2019.

He put up 518 goals, 1,409 points and 740 penalty minutes in 1,188 total regular season contests, before adding another 30 goals, 99 points and 67 penalty minutes in 97 postseason games. A proud member of both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, Hawerchuk also earned two Canada Cup championships (1987, 1991) before turning his attention to coaching.

In early May, Dale Hawerchuk spoke in depth on CBC’s ‘After Hours’ segment with host Scott Oake about his then-current situation from his family farm in King City, ON. After first showing signs of heavy acid reflux in August of 2019, the Hockey Hall of Fame member said he chose to undergo a scope, which certainly helped prolong his life.

“I went in and did the scope,” Hawerchuk recalled. “When I woke up the doctors at the end of the bed said, ‘Sorry, but I’ve got bad news. You got cancer.’ You just think you’re in a bad dream. You want to wake up but that was the reality. Within a few hours, I was meeting with the surgeon.”

The immediate shock of Hawerchuk’s diagnosis was felt throughout both the communities of Winnipeg – where Hawerchuk suited up for the Jets for nine seasons – and Barrie – his current home, as a ninth-year OHL head coach – as reports tending to the seriousness of the situation grew in nature, seemingly overnight.

Hawerchuk first publicly cited “health issues” as his reason for stepping away from the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts at the beginning of the 2019-20 OHL season. Much speculation led to the family announcement that the 16-year NHL veteran had been diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“The support I received from Winnipeg was large,” Hawerchuk said. “I have a lot of gratitude for that for sure; it really helped pull me through. Some people were relentless, you know, in my emails or texts or through friends. But just knowing that support was there… I love Winnipeg, but I love Manitoba too. I have heard from so many different people. It was the perfect place for me to play and I enjoyed it thoroughly.”

Hawerchuk’s support system extended from his deep hockey connections all the way back to his family at home. His wife Crystal – whom he met back in Winnipeg – has served as his personal nurse, while his children Eric, Alexis and Ben provided support in “nearly every other thing”. Ben even returned to Ontario from his professional hockey team in Slovakia to be with his father during the process.

“It’s a family battle, and their support was incredible,” Hawerchuk shared between tears. “There were some tough days. I cannot imagine going though this by yourself, it would be so difficult. They helped immensely. Not only my family, but even the support I got from the hockey world. It was incredible.”

For Hawerchuk, the cancer came on rather quickly, with hardly any indication. Now serving as somewhat of a spokesperson for the cause, he did provide a message of support/instruction for a certain demographic of the general population in his ‘After Hours’ appearance:

“The one thing you find out with cancer, and even talking to other people who have had cancer, is the symptoms don’t hit until it’s further along than you’d want,” Hawerchuk said. “If you can get it in stage one, you’re way ahead of the game and a lot of the times the symptoms don’t show up until stage three or four. I think just the way things are in the world now, whether it’s the food we’re eating, you should do these scopes earlier than when we used to recommend.”

Since beginning his tenure as Colts’ head coach in 2010, the former first overall selection (Winnipeg Jets, 1981) has put together a 305-269-38 regular season record in the CHL – a 49.8 win percentage. With Barrie, Hawerchuk has helped shape current NHL stars Mark Scheifele, Brendan Lemieux, Aaron Ekblad, Tanner Pearson, Andreas Athanasiou, Rasmus Andersson, Andrei Svechnikov and Kevin Labanc amongst others.

Hawerchuk signed a four-year contract extension in April of 2019, keeping him in the fold in Barrie through the 2022-23 OHL season. Last July Hawerchuk participated in his annual Dale Hawerchuk Charity Golf Classic – a celebrity tournament in which proceeds raised go to the True North Youth Foundation. And most recently, this past May, the city of Oshawa, ON. announced that Dale Hawerchuk Park would go up for the spring of 2022.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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