Dale Hawerchuk was a man in the right time, but the wrong place.
Hawerchuk died yesterday, succumbing to stomach cancer at age 57. Hawerchuk was a throwback to old-time hockey, not the rough-and-tumble kind cherished by the Don Cherrys of the world, but the wild West shootouts in the old Smythe Division, when 7-6 games were the norm.
Hawerchuk was drafted first overall by the Jets in 1981, the Jets that eventually became the Arizona Coyotes. But the fans who loved him the most are still in Winnipeg, and are fans of Winnipeg 2.0, who were the Atlanta Thrashers. He became the first 18-year-old to score 100 points as a rookie, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
His misfortune was playing in the same division as Wayne Gretzky and the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers at the peak of their powers. The Oilers knocked the Jets out of the playoffs six times in Hawerchuk’s nine seasons with the team. His greatest season was in 1984-85, when he scored 53 goals and had 130 points, finishing second in the Hart Trophy balloting to, of course, Wayne Gretzky.
Denied playoff success, perhaps Hawerchuk’s finest moment came in the 1987 Canada Cup victory against the Soviets, where he played on a line with Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Hawerchuk won the faceoff that led to Lemieux’s Cup-clinching goal.
He moved on to Buffalo, where he had five more productive seasons in obscurity, scoring more than a point per game, and was traded to St. Louis, where he played just one season. He was a deadline acquisition of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1995-96, where he finally had a chance for postseason success, getting past the first round of the playoffs for only the second time in his career. In 1996-97, he and the Flyers made the Stanley Cup Finals but ran into another dynasty, the Detroit Red Wings, and were swept. Hawerchuk retired after that year, finishing with 518 goals and 1,409 points, 20th in NHL history. He was elected to the hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.
Fellow Jets Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne said of him on Twitter: “What an incredible human being. I’m thankful that Ducky was my friend and I had a chance to talk with him yesterday and say goodbye. The world is not [the] same place without him.”
This story was corrected to note that the current Jets were the Atlanta Thrashers.