WINNIPEG - The Dale Hawerchuk Charity Golf Classic returned to for its ninth year on a typically sunny, hot summer day in the Manitoba capital last week. Hosted at Elmhurst Golf & Country Club, the tournament not only welcomed Hawerchuk, but other Jets and NHL alumni, for an above par day of bonding and giving back.
While the sold-out tournament welcomed many community members from across Canada for the opportunity to golf alongside the former NHLers, the players were just as thrilled to be there.
For Hawerchuk, it's his chance to give back to the community he called home for nine seasons.
"To come back and help out as much as I can is important," said Hawerchuk. "People were so good to me and my family over the years. And of course being a Winnipeg Jet, you understand the importance to be a part of the community. So if we can give back a little, that's great."
With Hawerchuk sending the proceeds from the tournament to the True North Youth Foundation, it's clear that he wants the Winnipeg hockey community to shape the lives of youth the way it shaped his life. Jets alumni Dave Ellett, Thomas Steen, Dave Babych, Kris King and Jordy Douglas, and NHL greats Butch Goring, Ron Duguay and Brad May were among other players who also showed their support for that goal by joining in the tournament.
"The guys understand that community is such a big part of Winnipeg and the Jets," said Hawerchuk of the NHL alumni. "They get it. And all the golfers love playing with these guys. And the guys enjoy it. We don't get the chance to see each other a lot over the course of the year, so it's like an annual reunion."
Hawerchuk's teammates agree. The combination of giving back to the Winnipeg community and reconnecting is what keeps them coming back for the tournament, and it makes the day a highlight for them.
"Any time you can be in an event where Dale is involved, it's a first class deal," said Ellett, who played with the Jets for seven seasons. "For me, it's fun seeing old teammates. A lot of memories come up, and it makes you realize how much fun we had here."
Thomas Steen, who played his entire 14-year NHL career with the Jets, noted that it doesn't take long for players to pick up where they left off with old teammates.
"It's always nice to see the guys that you played with and against," said Steen. "It's a special bond that you don't get in everyday life when you're retired, but it's instant when you come to these events."
That bond is what makes the Winnipeg Jets Alumni and Friends Association so special. It offers alumni a community to connect with on a regular basis, and it gives them a way to stay involved with the current team, and with the Winnipeg hockey community.
"It's first class, and it's better than running around on your own," noted Steen who still lives in Winnipeg and is regularly involved with alumni engagements. "It brings an asset to the whole organization I think, to have the older players involved and doing good things in the community."
Even for alumni like Hawerchuk and Ellett, who don't live in Winnipeg, the Alumni Association is valued.
"I got to know some of the WHA guys back in the day - they gave a lot of advice and they had the experience," said Hawerchuk. "When you can pass that on to the young guys at an earlier age, the quicker they start to understand how important the community is here."
-- Jason Friesen, WinnipegJets.com