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Dale Hawerchuk, hockey hall of famer with a talent for scoring big, dies at 57

Mr. Hawerchuk celebrated after scoring in the 1986 NHL All-Star game in Hartford. Don Heiny/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Dale Hawerchuk, a hockey phenom who became the face of the Winnipeg Jets en route to the Hall of Fame, has died at the age of 57 after a battle with cancer.

The Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, a team Mr. Hawerchuk coached, confirmed the death on Twitter on Tuesday.

Mr. Hawerchuk lacked the celebrity name recognition of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, but that did not make him any less valuable on the ice. Known as hockey’s ‘‘low maintenance superstar,’’ Mr. Hawerchuk consistently led his National Hockey League teams in scoring, often by large margins.

He was ‘‘more valuable to his team than Gretzky was to his,’’ a 1985 Sports Illustrated story noted. ‘‘Edmonton probably would have won it all even without Gretzky; Winnipeg would have waved the white flag in January without Hawerchuk.’’

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Teammates sometimes called him ‘‘Ducky’’ because of his awkward skating style, but Mr. Hawerchuk led the Jets in scoring in all nine of his seasons in Winnipeg. He also played in five All-Star games and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.

‘‘People think because you are in the Hall of Fame it must have been easy for you, but that was not the case with me,’’ Mr. Hawerchuk told the Hockey News in 2015. ‘‘I could get results, but I wasn’t the greatest skater. I had to find a way to score.’’

Dale Hawerchuk was born in Toronto on April 4, 1963, and grew up in Oshawa, Ontario. A child hockey prodigy who once scored eight goals in an 8-1 game in a Peewee tournament, Mr. Hawerchuk kept improving as he advanced to higher levels.

In two seasons with the Cornwall Royals of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he led the team to two Memorial Cup championships.

In 1981, the Jets selected Mr. Hawerchuk with the first overall draft pick. At 18, he helped the team win 33 games, 24 more than they won the previous season.

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He was the youngest player in NHL history to reach 100 points, a record broken by Sidney Crosby in 2006. No wonder his early career came with comparisons to Wayne Gretzky.

“He has the same instincts, that puck sense, of Gretzky,” said Mike Doran, Winnipeg’s director of player personnel in 1981.

Mr. Hawerchuk’s 45 goals and 103 points led all rookies, which earned him the Calder Memorial trophy, given to the rookie of the year. In 1984, he was named captain of the Jets.

In 1987, Mr. Hawerchuk joined other elite Canadian players for the Canada Cup tournament. The finals, widely considered the best three-game hockey series of all time, saw the Canadians face a powerful team from the Soviet Union.

In Game 3, with the score tied 5-5 in the waning minutes, Mr. Hawerchuk was put in a line with Gretzky and Lemieux, both of whom deferred to him to take the faceoff. He won it, which led to Lemieux’s series-clinching goal. Mr. Hawerchuk, who also had a goal, was named the player of the game.

‘‘We were scared,’’ Mr. Hawerchuk told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix in 2002 of the series against the Soviets. ‘‘We were scared as players and that’s probably why our best came out. We knew that even if we just played well, it wasn’t going to be good enough. We had some fear, but not in a way of backing off; in a way of pushing harder.’’

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He also helped the Canadians win the 1991 Canada Cup.

A shy type, Mr. Hawerchuk said he savored the moments with his teammates in the privacy of the dressing room the most.

“It’s a real special feeling and nobody can take that from you,” he said.

Mr. Hawerchuk missed the playoffs only once — in 1988-89 with Winnipeg — during his NHL career.

He averaged more than a point-per-game for 13 consecutive seasons, becoming the 23rd player to reach the 500-goal plateau in 1995-96 and the 31st player to have 1,000 points in 1990-91.

He was also the first NHLer to play in his 1,000th career game before his 31st birthday.

In 1990, the Jets’ lack of playoff success led to a blockbuster trade, with Mr. Hawerchuk going to the Buffalo Sabres. He continued posting impressive statistics. After five seasons, and after the league signed a new collective bargaining agreement, he became one of the first major free agents of the modern era. The St. Louis Blues signed him to a three-year, $7.5 million deal.

But injuries caught up with him, and St. Louis traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers. In 1997, he finally got a chance to play in the Stanley Cup finals, but his Flyers were swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings. A hip injury then forced Mr. Hawerchuk to retire at 34. At the time, his 1,409 points were the 10th-highest total in NHL history.

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He and his wife, Crystal, had three children.

In 2010, Mr. Hawerchuk became head coach of the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, where he coached two of his sons. He took a leave of absence in 2019 after his cancer was diagnosed. He compared enduring chemotherapy to a ‘‘bag skate,’’ where players go through exhausting skating drills.

When he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Jets were no more. But he said the Jets “are etched in my mind every day that I live.”


Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.