The marketing campaign announcing the franchise's newest and most exciting signing blared: DALE HAWERCHUK THE PERFECT 10. After leading his junior squad, the Cornwall Royals, to back-to-back Memorial Cup championships, the Winnipeg Jets salivated for months over the possibility of choosing the sensational centre to lead their woeful franchise out of the cellar and take them to the Promised Land.
After finishing last in 1980-81, the Jets were awarded first pick and GM John Ferguson surprised no one by picking the savvy Hawerchuk. That summer, Dale was driven in a Brink's truck to Winnipeg's busiest intersection to sign his first professional contract.
"I watched them (the Jets) a few times on TV this year and I don't think they're as bad as their record indicates," Dale stated after signing his contract during the summer of 1980. "They have a very young team and could be a team of the future. I think it would be nice to be a part of that."
Dale was not just part of that, but at 18, shouldered the incredible responsibility of turning around a franchise that had missed making the playoffs in their first two seasons of existence.
"I think the first time I finally stepped on the ice in Winnipeg," Hawerchuk details when asked for the biggest thrill of his hockey career. "It was like, 'I finally made it and I have dreamed about this forever and here I am.' Skating out and the crowd is going crazy; it was quite a thrill!"
That night was October 6, 1981; an evening that resulted in a 6-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Winnipeg Arena. Three nights later, the Jets won their first game of the season with Dale contributing a goal in an 8-3 win over the Rangers. "I faked a slapshot against Carol Vadnais and managed to get around him to beat the goalie, Steve Baker, with a high shot," Hawerchuk explains. For Dale, it was the first of 379 goals he'd score as a Jet.
For nine seasons, Dale Hawerchuk gave the Winnipeg Jets an air of respectability. His youthful leadership both on and off the ice made Winnipeg a perennial contender during the 1980's and it is likely that only a searing hot Edmonton Oilers team kept Dale Hawerchuk, and his Jets, from realizing their ultimate dream.
Kevin Shea is the Hockey Hall of Fame's Manager of Publishing and Editorial Services.