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Blasts from the Past

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A talk with Dale Hawerchuk
by Robyn Steiner

Hawerchuk, the first player selected at the 1981 entry draft, is the 5'11", 175-lb. centre of the Winnipeg Jets. He was born on April 4, 1963, in Toronto. Dale shoots left, and played his two amateur years with the Cornwall Royals in the Quebec Memorial Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). There, he captured several honours and awards, including Rookie of the Year, as well as Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. During his first season, he scored 103 points, to which he added 45 additional points in the playoffs to place him on the Memorial Cup all star team.

In his last year, Dale led the league in scoring, with 183 points, of which 81 were goals. As a result, his amateur career ended with an average of 1.99 points per game. Dale chalked up a first team all-star spot, and was named Player of the Year for the QMJHL. He led his team to their second consecutive Memorial Cup by scoring a record 8 goals. In addition, he was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. In 1981, Dale won the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League's Player of the Year award, making him the NHL's #1 draft choice.

Q: Dale, how have you found the change from amateur to professional sports?

Hawerchuk: It's quite a big change in your lifestyle, on and off the ice. On the ice, the players are that much better and strong, and the games are more developed in the NHL. And then off the ice, it's different because you don't go to school any more. Your whole life has evolved around hockey. It's something you have got to love if you want to do it, and I enjoy it.

Q: How do you feel about going from a championship junior team to a last-place NHL team?

Hawerchuk: That was tough! I've been used to playing on winning teams since I was about ten years old, so it was tough coming to a team like Winnipeg. I thought this at first, but coming here I found the guys were really good, and it was a big changeover from last year. We have a lot of young guys and a new coach, which has given us a fresh new attitude, and things are looking more positive. To make a jump in the NHL, you can't just do it in one year; it has to be over a few years.

Q: If Winnipeg hadn't drafted you into the NHL, what team would you like to have been drafted by?

Hawerchuk: That's hard to say, but I guess it depends on the circumstances. Boston was always my favourite team, but there are great teams like Montreal and Toronto. With changes in the budget, it affects the hockey players, so that a lot of them want to play in the United States.

Q: When you were younger, did you idolize any of the players on Boston?

Hawerchuk: That's probably why, I idolized Bobby Orr. Bobby Orr played in Oshawa, but I wasn't old enough to see him play. Anyway, he was always my favourite player.

Q: How do you enjoy all of the travelling involved in professional hockey?

Hawerchuk: There's quite a bit! I don't mind the plane rides, because as soon as I get on I fall asleep just like that. The problem is, we don't usually get direct flights out of Winnipeg, and we end up standing around in airports for a couple of hours, which gets you tired. It's good for me the first time around, because I haven't seen a lot of the places; it's always nice flying into places like Los Angeles.

Q: Out of all the NHL cities you have played in, which are you most impressed with and why?

Hawerchuk: I think Toronto. I grew up in Oshawa and I never played in Toronto, or Maple Leaf Gardens, for that matter. It seems to me that Toronto is the "hockey hot-bed." Everything is centralized around it. All the big manufacturers are there to see players, and all the fans appear to be there as well. They are not one of the top teams, but they sell out every game, and that's a positive feeling for them. I would say that it is the hottest hockey city around.

Q: How do you prepare yourself on the day of a game?

Hawerchuk: Well, usually in the morning we have a pre-game skate. We go out for maybe a half-hour or forty-five minutes in sweat pants. When I'm at home I'll probably go out and just find something to do that day until about three o'clock. Then I eat a pretty good meal, like spaghetti or something like that that's fast, and then I'll lay down for an hour.

Q: What, in your view, has been your best moment in your first pro year with the Jets?

Hawerchuk: When I scored my first goal in the NHL. It's always a kid's dream to play in the NHL, so then when I did get my first goal I knew my name would be in the record books in the NHL. Everyone is trying to get that first goal, and once you get that first one, it seems to get a little easier, and the pressure's off.

Q: Can you describe how you felt when you got that goal?

Hawerchuk: Great! I can remember it now. I fell down on the shot. I just couldn't believe it when I made it. That was my biggest moment.

Q: How have you found Winnipeg in the short time that you've been here?

Hawerchuk: I have found it to be really good, and the people are really friendly. The weather is really cold, except for in the east, but they are getting really cold weather, too. So far I've got no complaints; the people really like their hockey here; they support it.

Q: Are you pleased with fan and media response here?

Hawerchuk: Oh yeah! I think that especially since a team that did as poor as we did last year, that the fact that the fans are right behind us is great. Fans are fans, and I can see their point if we are not playing well. It's hard when you get your new schedule and then have to be at your best for every game. As a professional, that's your job, and you have to make the best of it. Fans are all alike, and they are paying good money to see you play, so I can see their 'beef.'

Q: Do you feel that you are getting a good shake from the media right now?

Hawerchuk: Yes! I never had a problem with the media. All the way up to last year I received a lot of media attention wherever I went, because Winnipeg had stated that they were going to take me. So there was always pressure going into a rink, but I never really had a particular problem. I haven't been put down by one media person yet, but I know some players who have been. I don't like to see that too much, because most individuals are out there trying to do their best. You shouldn't put a guy down that much!

Q: Do the demands of your fans interfere with your private life - specifically the female fans, who appear to be everywhere you are?

Hawerchuk: When I was playing junior, Cornwall was never that big, so I never really had that much. But I've noticed quite a bit around here. Like after a game I get all kinds of proposals and propositions. Things like that you never really get accustomed to, so you just laugh it off. It doesn't really bother me or my private life, because if I want to go out with a girl it's not usually with a girl who asks me out, so therefore I ask her out if I show an interest in her. I'm getting used to it now.

Q: Do you value yourself more as a playmaker or a goal scorer?

Hawerchuk: When I was younger, I was more of a goal scorer, but as I've become older, I've attained more of the playmaker style. I myself am more of a playmaker, but I like to score goals too. I couldn't really narrow it down to one thing. If there is a chance for a pass, I pass it. You have to take advantage of the opportunities. In junior, you might get twelve good opportunities a game, where in the pros you might get two or three.

Q: Many of your fellow teammates are involved in hockey schools during the summer. This being your first season with the Jets, do you think you'll follow in their footsteps?

Hawerchuk: Yes! I've already been involved in a few in the last two summers. I don't think I'd ever coach a hockey school all by myself, though I don't mind teaching kids any little things I know that are going to help them. I'd rather help them, because I know when I was younger I appreciated when the junior players came out to practice. It helps you and it boosts your morale.

Q: How nervous were you the first time you stepped out on the ice as a pro?

Hawerchuk: The first time was at training camp, and I don't think I could do anything good that day. I was just terrible; they were probably wondering if I was the tenth round pick. After that, the players helped me out a lot. The biggest thing is just getting confidence. But after that, it was pretty smooth sailing.

Q: Do you find hockey life hectic? Would you trade it if you could make as much money in another career?

Hawerchuk: I don't think so. I've loved the game ever since I was "yea high." I've always wanted to be a hockey player; I still love it, and I hope to be playing for a long time. I do have my education to fall back on if something happens. It's the game I love, and there are a lot more years left for me, I hope.

Q: Do you find it difficult living so far away from home?

Hawerchuk: It's not too bad. I was in Cornwall for two years and left home when I was 16; that was really tough. My father and I were really close, so I remember after my first month in Cornwall he said if I didn't like it he wouldn't be hurt if I came home, but he always wanted me to play hockey, and so did I. He really stressed hockey to me, and a lot of people thought he would have died if I hadn't made it, but I don't think so. Everything he did was good; he pushed me into doing it to the best of my ability. No half-way, so in that respect, it was really good. Coming to Winnipeg hasn't been too bad because we go back to Toronto and to Detroit.

Q: Do you participate in any other sport besides hockey?

Hawerchuk: When I was younger, I played every sport you can play. When you got to junior level, you had to give those up just to concentrate on hockey. In the summer I water ski, and play baseball; I'm kind of a sports fanatic.

Q: Although this is your first season with the Jets, how do you see them as compared to last season?

Hawerchuk: This year there has been a fresh attitude, a good young attitude. The guys want to win, so that should take us to the playoffs.

Q: Do you feel that you would sometimes like to further your education?

Hawerchuk: I was only able to get up to Grade 12; I was supposed to be in Grade 13 this year. I don't even know what I want to do after hockey, but if I get an idea, then maybe I'll start taking some university courses or correspondence; I'd like to have something to fall back on.