By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
Crystal Hawerchuk told a crowd of hundreds of people how much her late husband, Dale, loved the city and the province before the official unveiling of the statue of the greatest Winnipeg Jet of all time just outside of the Canada Life Centre on Saturday afternoon.
“Now, he is home again,” Crystal said.
Then, 16 former Jets teammates unfurled the cover over the statue to much whooping and applause.
“Dale was notified of this honour shortly before he died and he was humbled by it,” said Crystal, who is a Winnipeg native. “He led with a purpose. He inspired us all to be better people, he supported many charities, and he gave our family a beautiful life.
“Thank you to everyone for making this statue a reality.”
Hawerchuk, who lost a battle to stomach cancer in 2020 when he was only 57, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, had his No. 10 retired by the franchise in 2007, and was inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame in 2017.
Hawerchuk, who won the Calder Memorial Trophy as top rookie in 1981-82, posted five straight 100-point seasons over his nine years with the Jets and was the third-youngest player to score 50 goals in a season. He also played for Buffalo, St. Louis and Philadelphia. He scored a total of 518 goals and 1,409 career points in 1,188 career NHL games.
“This was so incredible,” said Dale’s son, Eric Hawerchuk. “First of all, my mom’s speech was pretty unbelievable. She recited it to me a couple times. I know she was pretty nervous. But she got up there, she’s a natural, right?
“It was very emotional. I kind of prepared for it, but just to see the sheer size of it and the attention to details is kinda hard to put it into words. But, I’m so proud of him and to see this here and to see all of the people here is just so amazing. It’s still shocks me every time I see it.”
Jets associate coach Scott Arniel started his NHL career in Winnipeg with Hawerchuk after the two played junior hockey together.
“We were friends for a lifetime,” said Arniel, who fought back tears. “I was talking to him near the end. I told them they were going to make a statue of him and he said, ‘I can’t believe it.’
“He grew up here as a hockey player, as a husband and a father. He loved Winnipeg. He meant an awful lot to all of us. … This statue will remind everyone of the memories he left.”
Jets executive chairman Mark Chipman said the original plan was to have Dale attend the unveiling.
“We didn’t fully appreciate how his health had deteriorated,” Chipman said. “We had made the decision to do this quite some time before that, and Dale had recovered.
“It was our hope that he’d be here today when we did this. His health declined very rapidly, and we were advised of that. We thought the least we could do is tell him.”
Hawerchuk coached current Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who spoke at the ceremony.
“I see the statue over there and all of a sudden you’re fighting back tears, you’re fighting back the nerves and fighting back just all the feeling that kind of come onto you,” said Scheifele.
“But what a tremendous honour to speak at his statue unveiling. He meant so much to me. It’s one of those things I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The statue was sculpted by Erik Blome, who also sculpted statues of Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan.