Given his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame and that he registered more than 500 goals and 1,400 points across a 16-year professional career, it’s safe to say Dale Hawerchuk knows a thing or two about how to make it in the NHL. But when you boil it down, the “Hawerchuk Guide to NHL Success” is really based one on principle: do your homework.
“If you want to be a doctor, you go to university, and you learn from a doctor, right?” said Hawerchuk, who now coaches the OHL’s Barrie Colts. “So, you pay your tuition, go to university and the doctor’s teaching you. Our guys, they want to be NHL players, and you can get your university degree by watching on TV, learning your lessons as you’re watching the NHL, because that’s where you want to go.”
If studying the game’s greats away from the rink is what Hawerchuk considers the stick-and-puck equivalent of a top-flight post-secondary education, consider Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele his star pupil. His studies began almost the moment he met Hawerchuk. Scheifele was 17 and about to start his rookie campaign with the Colts. The coach gave him one of many early teaching sessions. All these years later, Scheifele remains spongelike, soaking up any bit of knowledge he can.
“I’ll watch the centermen, their tendencies, things they’re trying,” Scheifele said. “And then you watch the game and you see a nice play being made, a move on a faceoff or in the offensive or defensive zone that you could add to your game. I think about it for the next day or so, then I might try to make my own drill or think about certain things that I can do to incorporate it into my game.”
And it’s the rare occasion that Scheifele, a self-professed hockey nerd, comes to the rink without something new to try. During Scheifele’s time with the Colts, Hawerchuk said it was a daily occurrence, and the Jets center comes by his undying dedication to his craft honestly. It’s his parents, Brad and Mary Lou, whom Scheifele cites as the source of his hardworking nature. He smirks when suggesting they had very little influence on his on-ice career other than giving him “good genes,” but he’s nothing but sincere when explaining the traits they’ve instilled in him.
“My parents were great at raising me, my brother and my sister,” Scheifele said. “They taught us the right way to live, the right way to go about things. The biggest thing in anything we’re doing, whether it’s school, basketball, hockey, is to have fun, and if you’re going to do something you have to work hard at it.”
That goes for more than the mental aspects of the game, mind you. Scheifele brings the same determination to improving his foundational skills. Case in point? After first seeing Scheifele play Jr. B for the Kitchener Dutchmen, Hawerchuk recalls questions being asked of the then-16-year-old’s skating. Some believed it would hold him back at the next level. Scheifele’s personality convinced Hawerchuk otherwise.
“When you met him and talked to him, you realized that’s not going to be an issue, because he’s got a great work ethic on and off the ice,” Hawerchuk said. “Sometimes it takes people a little while to grow into their body or whatever. He was a lanky kid at the time, pretty skinny, but he worked at it. By the time he was in his last couple years of junior, he was really pushing the pace every day.”
The concerns about any facet of Scheifele’s game have all but disappeared five seasons into his big-league career. Thought by some to be a reach when the Jets took him seventh overall in 2011, Scheifele, 24, is now considered among the league’s top pivots, and his 61 goals and 143 points over his past two seasons are more than enough evidence there’s very little holding him back. But Scheifele’s not one to rest on his laurels.
In his quest to improve further, Scheifele added Hall of Famer and skills coach Adam Oates and former NHLer and workout guru Gary Roberts to his off-season training team. Scheifele is no stranger to putting in extra work post-practice, and he’s often the last to leave the ice during warmups.
However, to say Scheifele’s lone driving force is his work ethic would be to leave out one of the traits that has been paramount in his development: he hates to lose. Of course, professional athletes, almost to a person, will say the same, but Scheifele’s disdain for defeat doesn’t end on the ice.
His competitive fire followed him through volleyball, basketball, lacrosse, badminton, track and field, you name it. It’s also been known to get the best of him in run-of-the-mill activities, too. “If I lost to my brother in Mouse Trap or whatever, the board would be flipped or we’d get in a fight playing mini sticks in the basement,” Scheifele said. “Whatever it was, I always hated losing. I had a pretty bad temper as a kid, but it’s what drives me now to be the best.”
And if it isn’t obvious yet, Scheifele doesn’t mean anything less than the best, either. He made headlines prior to this season when he said he wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. In fact, Scheifele said he wants to be better than either of his MVP-caliber contemporaries.
That ambition, paired with Scheifele’s keen eye and studiousness, is the very reason some believe his time in the NHL won’t end when his playing days are over, that, even though he’s still young, he has all the makings of a future coach or GM. For what it’s worth, Scheifele’s not exactly shooting down either idea, even though he says he’s got far too many years left in him to really consider it right now.
“That’s something that’s way down the road,” he said. “But I definitely do like watching and scouting players…It’s (great) if you’re right about someone. ‘Hey, I like this guy, he’s a good player. And five years later, he ends up being a stud.”