WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg's love affair with Dale Hawerchuk comes full circle this week, 36 years after it started.
Hawerchuk, 54, will be inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame prior to the game between the Jets and Arizona Coyotes (the original Winnipeg franchise) at Bell MTS Place on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; TSN3, FS-A, NHL.TV).
The No. 1 pick of the 1981 NHL Draft will be the guest of honor at the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame Luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel at the corner of Portage Ave. and Main St. on Wednesday. The iconic downtown intersection is where Jets general manager John Ferguson announced Hawerchuk's signing on Aug. 13, 1981, complete with a Brinks truck as a prop.
"It's really special," Hawerchuk said. "I played 16 years, nine in Winnipeg and I always lived in Manitoba during the summers. I went there at 18, almost like I grew up there with the Jets and Manitoba. They shaped me. Those are years where you're learning how life ticks. I've always felt a closeness to the Jets and the people in the province."
The Jets created their Hall of Fame in 2016 to honor outstanding contributions by players from the city's NHL team. Anders Hedberg, Bobby Hull and Ulf Nilsson -- "The Hot Line" -- were the first inductees a year ago.
Video: Memories: Hawerchuk sets record with five assists
Hawerchuk made an immediate impression in the NHL with 103 points (45 goals, 58 assists) in 80 games during the 1981-82 season and winning the Calder Trophy as the League's rookie of the year. The Toronto native suggested a youthful naivete may have helped him but admitted that during his first training camp, he was worried he might not be able to make the grade.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm not sure I can. This is fast, the guys are big and strong. I'm not sure I'll keep up,'" Hawerchuk said. "I was worried because I didn't want to be the first pick that got sent back to junior. But then we got going into some exhibition games and I got more and more comfortable just by practicing every day at the speed."
The center's success, the first of his 13 consecutive NHL seasons averaging at least a point per game, wasn't as easy as it looked, he said.
"It was tiring," Hawerchuk said. "We flew commercial (for road trips) back then and I was always tightly squeezed into a middle seat, being a rookie.
"I knew two things were going happen on planes. One was that I would fall asleep, you know, the fatigue of the season, and two, I knew my tie would be cut. I went through a lot of ties that first year."
Hawerchuk had 929 points (379 goals, 550 assists) in 713 games with the Jets. He was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on June 16, 1990 and played for the St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers. In 1,188 NHL games over 16 seasons, Hawerchuk had 1,409 points (518 goals, 891 assists) and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs once, in 1989. He is 19th on the NHL's all-time points list and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.
"Everybody could see how great a passer he was, a goal scorer, but the biggest thing of all, and I saw this in him all the way back to our junior days, was his competitiveness," said New York Rangers associate coach Scott Arniel, Hawerchuk's teammate in Winnipeg and for back-to-back Memorial Cup titles with Cornwall of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 1980 and 1981. "He hated to lose."
Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill, Hawerchuk's teammate in Winnipeg from 1985 to 1988, believes Hawerchuk was underappreciated during his peak years in the League.
"It was Wayne Gretzky's time, the same time for Dale, and probably because of that I don't think he was appreciated as much outside of the Winnipeg area as much as he should have been," Nill said. "He was an elite player, a very humble player who played hard and wanted to win. He was a big part of that franchise for all the years I was in Winnipeg."
Hawerchuk endured relentless attention from opponents in the early seasons of his NHL career and still produced great numbers. He exceeded 100 points in seven of his first eight NHL seasons including 1984-85, when he had a career-best 130 points (53 goals, 77 assists) in 80 games.
"Winnipeg's depth in his early years was not that great," Nill said. "In his early years, it was almost him against the world and that's not easy for a young guy. And he did it and he carried it."
The problem for Hawerchuk and the Jets that season was the same throughout the 1980s, the road to success always went through the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. The Jets finished second to Edmonton in the Smythe Division with 96 points in 1984-85, defeated Calgary 3-1 in the best-of-5 division semifinals but lost 4-0 to the Oilers in the division final.
It was the one season Hawerchuk reached the 50-goal mark (53) and finished second to Gretzky in the Hart Trophy voting.
"His 50th goal was a big deal for everybody," Arniel said of the shorthanded breakaway goal against Chicago Black Hawks goalie Warren Skorodenski on March 29, 1985. "I remember how nervous he was and how excited he was. I know we were all trying not to talk about it. We tried to just play. But it was obviously a proud moment to see him get it."
Fifty-goal status was no small thing, Nill said, previously reserved in Winnipeg for the likes of Hull, Nilsson and Hedberg.
"And here came Dale Hawerchuk, so to hit that 50-goal plateau, that was something, almost unheard of," Nill said. "To be a member of that team or club, that was a very big accomplishment."
Hawerchuk's impact on hockey in Winnipeg will continue for the foreseeable future. As coach of Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League since the start of the 2010-11 season, he guided the early development of center Mark Scheifele for three junior seasons.
Scheifele was the first pick of the relocated Jets, No. 7 in the 2011 NHL Draft.
"I don't think there was any time where he said something I didn't understand," said Scheifele, who scored his 100th NHL goal against the Coyotes on Nov. 11. "Everything he said made sense. I think that's what made him such a good coach, that he wasn't just talking gibberish.
"It's a simple game and it's a team game, and I think that's the biggest thing he's taught me, that this game isn't about the flash and dash. It's about the simplicity and doing the right things for your team and for your linemates each and every shift."