By Dale Hawerchuk with Rory Boylen
There’s a notion out there Winnipeg isn’t the greatest place for an athlete to live. Unfortunately, that’s the media – it’s not a good story unless it’s negative.
I remember vividly in my last couple of years there talking to reporters and saying “guys, you’re going to chase this team right out of town and then you’re going to be looking for a job.”
When I played in Winnipeg there were about a dozen of us who lived there year-round. Thomas Steen, Dave Ellett, Randy Gilhen…Randy Carlyle had a cottage he’d go up to…those are only a few. There were guys who retired there as well.
I enjoyed being a part of the community in Winnipeg. The city has its sports, its theatre and whatever every other city has, just on a different scale. But there are also great beaches in the area. You have your Lake of the Woods, which is like the Muskokas north of Toronto, and you have your Gimli and Grand Beaches, which are like destinations in South Carolina. There is a lot to do. Our family had a cottage in Gimli we’d spend summers at, but with the kids all grown up we just sold it in the past year.
If you’re going to Winnipeg, you have to be ready to be recognized everywhere and know that if you go grocery shopping it might be a couple hours because people love to chat with you. And, like I always say, all players are the same: When the team is going well, they don’t mind; when the team is struggling, they want to hide until they turn it around. But that’s a good pressure to have.
I used to golf competitively out there and I remember one time I was tied for the lead after two rounds of the Manitoba Amateur. We got to the third round and at the first tee there must have been 1,000 people horseshoed around us and I thought ‘Oh my god, I can’t hit this ball here.’ I don’t even know how I got through the first two holes because I was just hitting into a crowd everywhere. The two guys I was playing with were former champs and I remember we’re walking down the third fairway and both these guys come over to me and said “Man, could I use a beer right now,” they were so nervous. The place was all of a sudden packed that day because it was in the paper that I was tied for the lead after two rounds.
People have been asking me since I retired if I thought Winnipeg would get a team back. Well, as soon as the new building went up it was a no-brainer. I was happy for the city and its fans when it was announced the NHL was coming back and I always had a feeling it would return because it’s just too good of a market. I’ve played road games in L.A. and Phoenix, Dallas and Florida. I’ve seen these markets and they do OK, but they still aren’t comparable to the interest that was in Winnipeg.
Times have changed and I think it’s a better playing field for the team now. Maybe I was naive when I was young, but when we needed a player we looked to the minors or somebody coming up from junior, college, whatever. We couldn’t afford to make many deals. Then, when I was playing in Philly, they needed a defenseman so they just went out and got Paul Coffey. Now, more than anything, the cap evens it out a bit.
It’s funny, I always run into Winnipeg people here in Ontario and of course now right away they go “Ah it’s great the team is back!” I think everybody’s going to be ramped up and want to get this thing off to a good start. It’s going to be exciting and I know I’ll be watching. I look forward to it like the fans – and the fans are everywhere.
This article appeared in the July 25 edition of The Hockey News.