Throughout his early years, Dale Hawerchuk was constantly facing comparisons to the game’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky. Mike Doran, the Winnipeg Jets’ Director of Player Personnel in 1981, once said, “He has the same instincts, that puck sense, of Gretzky.” Hawerchuk would not disappoint his fans, leading his team in scoring at every age.
Dale Hawerchuk was born on April 4, 1963, in the Rexdale area of Toronto. At an extremely early age his parents, Ed and Eleanor, moved the family to Oshawa. Dale received his first pair of skates at age two and, as his father put it, “He was skating before he could walk.” Beginning competitive hockey at age four, Hawerchuk demonstrated superior skills almost immediately. At a Peewee tournament in Montreal, he scored all eight goals during an 8-1 victory in the finals, smashing Guy Lafleur’s long-held record. By age 15, the famed Oshawa Generals offered him a tryout. He didn’t make the club, but the Generals tried to hide him in their local Junior ‘B’ club, a plan that didn’t work.
During the summer of 1979, Hawerchuk was selected 6th overall by the Cornwall Royals of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Although part of the Quebec League, Cornwall participated in the Ontario Draft, thus enabling them to grab Hawerchuk. He immediately set the league on fire, recording 103 points and garnering Rookie-of-the-Year honours. During the playoffs, he was named MVP, scoring 45 points in 18 games. He then led the Royals to the Memorial Cup championship, scoring three points in the final, capturing the Most Sportsmanlike Player Award, and being named to the All-Star Team at left wing.
Following their championship, the Royals were selected to represent Canada at the 1981 World Junior tournament when club teams were still sent. Despite a poor showing by the team, Hawerchuk dominated the tournament, his first international competition, tying for the scoring lead with nine points. That OHL season, he bettered his previous offensive totals, scoring 81 goals and 183 points and again leading the Royals to their second consecutive Memorial Cup title, setting a tournament record for goals (eight). For his efforts, Hawerchuk was named a QMJHL First Team All-Star, the Canadian Major Junior Player-of-the-Year, and Memorial Cup MVP/All-Star Centre. NHL Scouts drooled over the prospect of adding him to their club.
Based on their last place overall finish, the Winnipeg Jets earned the right to select first at the 1981 Entry Draft. John Ferguson made quite clear to teams around the league who their choice was going to be. Two months after the draft, on August 13, 1981 while the Jets were celebrating the club’s tenth anniversary at the corner of Portage & Main Streets, Hawerchuk was introduced to Winnipeg fans. He was driven to the celebration in a Brinks truck, signed his first pro contract, and was handed jersey #10, all with the Mayor and members of Provincial Government present. The pressure was now on for him to produce.
At age 18, Hawerchuk took Winnipeg and the NHL by storm, smashing team records along the way. By season’s end, “Ducky” as he was called by teammates, had led the Jets to the largest single season turn-around by one team in NHL history, a 48-point improvement. He shattered 17 club records in the process and became the youngest NHL player in history to reach the 100-point plateau, finishing with 103 points, the second best total by a rookie in NHL history. For his efforts, he captured the Calder Memorial Trophy as Rookie-of-the-Year — the youngest to win that award — and played in his first All-Star Game. Hawerchuk was now the darling of Winnipeg and was showered with media attention.
Admittedly a shy, reserved young man, Hawerchuk moved to a ranch outside the city limits to get away from the constant attention; however, his play would continue to attract notice. Other than a slight slump during his sophomore season in which he recorded 91 points, he reach the 100-point mark for five consecutive years, including a career-high 53 goals and 130 points in 1984-85, becoming the third youngest in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season. Goal Magazine referred to him as, “Mini-Gretzky,” as he was named a Second Team All-Star behind #99 himself and was runner-up for the Hart Trophy. By the 1989-90 season, after three more All-Star Game appearances and Rendez-vous ’87, Hawerchuk had re-written the Jets record book.
During the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, Hawerchuk, “Mr. Winnipeg Jet,” was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Over the next five years he led the Sabres in scoring three times, recording no fewer than 86 points (save an injury plagued 1994-95 season). Included in his totals was a 98-point campaign in 1991-92 in which he was also a member of Team Canada’s entry at the Canada Cup tournament.
Throughout his career, Hawerchuk was the consummate Canadian, always answering the call to international play when asked upon. Following a disappointing first round exit from the playoffs during his first year in Winnipeg, he met up with Canada at the 1982 World Championships winning a bronze medal. He also joined Canada in 1986 and 1989, winning another bronze and a silver medal, respectively. While perhaps his biggest hockey disappointment was not being invited to the 1984 Canada Cup training camp, his greatest hockey thrill (along with the Memorial Cup wins) was playing for Team Canada at the 1987 tournament. Hawerchuk played a checking role on the team behind Gretzky, Lemieux, and Messier, yet was instrumental in their success, winning the face-off that led to Canada’s second-most famous goal. He was again a key cog in Canada’s 1991 victory, moving to centre following an injury to Wayne Gretzky.
As an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 1995, Hawerchuk signed with the St. Louis Blues, recording 41 points in 66 games before a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. He finished the season strongly, scoring 20 points in the season’s final 16 games and adding 12 points in the playoffs. The next season, he was again plagued by injuries but still managed 34 points and was selected by the Commissioner to play in his fifth and final All-Star Game, scoring two goals. Despite a strong playoff run and a final shot at the Stanley Cup, the end was now in sight. Hawerchuk announced his retirement from the game following the 1996-97 season at age 34.
Despite playing in Western Canada during an era dominated by Edmonton and Calgary, Hawerchuk missed the playoffs only once during his 16-year career. During an era dominated by Gretzky and Lemieux, Hawerchuk recorded more than a point-per-game for 13 consecutive seasons. In a poll of NHL general managers during the mid-1980′s asking them to select the player they would start a franchise with, Hawerchuk was voted third behind only Gretzky and Paul Coffey. He was the 23rd player to reach the 500-goal plateau in 1995-96 and the 31st player to record 1,000 points in 1990-91. His final career totals included 518 goals, 891 assists and 1,409 points, placing him 10th on the career NHL points list.
Esso hockey medals of achievement