Hall of Famer and former Sabres center Dale Hawerchuk has revealed that he's battling stomach cancer, the reason he took a leave of absence last month as the coach of the OHL's Barrie Colts.
Hawerchuk's fight became a topic for Winnipeg and Calgary alumni at an NHL Legacy Luncheon Friday in advance of Saturday night's Heritage Classic game outdoors between the Flames and Jets in Regina, Saskatchewan. The conversation started with Calgary defenseman Jamie Macoun recounting the teams' 1985 playoff series won by Winnipeg in four games – even though Macoun broke Hawerchuk's rib with a cross check.
"He's in a fight for his life," former Calgary captain Lanny McDonald, now the chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame, said of Hawerchuk. "I spoke to Dale two weeks ago and reminded him of being knocked down by Jamie, encouraged him that, even though he's been knocked down many times in his life, this is one fight that he'll find a way to get back up and win all over again.
"In a spare moment, in your thoughts and prayers, make sure you say a couple for Dale Hawerchuk."
Hawerchuk had 385 points in 342 games for the Sabres from 1990-95, including a pair of seasons where he surpassed 90 points. He had 929 points in nine years with Winnipeg before joining the Sabres in the blockbuster 1990 trade that sent Phil Housley to the Jets. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001 after finishing his career with Philadelphia in the 1997 Stanley Cup final against Detroit.
"For some reason the Lord put me in this kind of fight and I’m ready to fight it,” Hawerchuk, 56, told TSN last week. “I want to live to tell the story.”
Hawerchuk said he is currently undergoing chemotherapy to shrink his tumor so doctors can then perform surgery and remove what's left.
"The chemo has hit me pretty hard,” he said. “I do it one week and it breaks the body down and then the next week I take a break and build my body up so I can do it again. I have to do that for two months. I really struggle to eat and have a feeding tube, but the last few days I’ve been able to eat a little bit, too. You’ve got to keep your nutrition up.”
Hawerchuk is Barrie's longest-running coach, entering his 10th season with the team. One of Hawerchuk's top players there is 2018 Sabres draft pick Matej Pekar.
"An illness like this can definitely put things in perspective," Hawerchuk said. "My surgeon told me I’ve got a hell of a battle on my hands, but I’m young and healthy everywhere else. Like anything in life, you just got to dig in and go for what your goals are. It’s kind of no different than trying to make the NHL. Who knew if I could make it, right?”
Bruins marching on
This corner checked in on the Bruins last week in Toronto prior to a playoff-like overtime loss to the Leafs and there's no Stanley Cup hangover there. Boston went into Saturday's Cup rematch with St. Louis 6-1-2.
"So far it's worked out," said coach Bruce Cassidy. "I don't think we've played our best hockey by any stretch. Our record is probably a product of really good special teams, some timely scoring and really good goaltending. We're not as tight (defensively) as we typically are.
"We're giving up more than we typically do, so we've got some areas we have to progress on but I think that's normal throughout the league. Whether you're the last-place team, a finalist or the winner, you're always building your game early on. There's going to be holes."
Red-hot winger David Pastrnak said it's been easier than he thought to move on.
"It's like when you read the book and turn the page," deadpanned Pastrnak. "It stinks and will stink forever. But just look forward now and we have a great team. We can't concentrate on last year. It's a long way now to get where we were then. We just want to try to get better every game."
Cassidy said his team has done a good job quickly getting past the disappointment of its Game 7 loss to St. Louis.
"You've got to turn the page," Cassidy said. "There's a lot of good memories from last year, a lot of good things to build on. But we didn't win. So we're like 30 other teams: We want to get back there and win.
"We're motivated to get back. We might have more problems in the middle of the year in those dog days because of the fatigue from last year. I think out of the gate, we've been fine."
Torts loves 3-on-3
Columbus coach John Tortorella loves overtime and wants to see more of it. "I don't know what we're waiting for to get rid of the shootout stuff," Tortorella said. "I know they are worried about the time ... it's not going to last that long. If it goes past five minutes, it's not going to be many more minutes after five. I think it's just dynamite."
While I tend to agree with Tortorella here, the players don't want any expansion of overtime in the regular season. The theory is the top players would take most of the added ice time. And fans seem to love the shootouts. In every arena I go to when the game goes to the skills competition, the fans in all corners of the building are on their feet. Hard to imagine the league would ever do away with that.
Around the boards
• Penguins coach Mike Sullivan seems to be in lockstep with Sabres coach Ralph Krueger when it comes to morning skates, as his team has cut back on them as well. Sullivan called them the most overrated practice in hockey. Said the two-time Stanley Cup coach: "Why does the whole league have morning skates? It reminds me of why my mother cut the sides of the hams off before she cooked them. And I asked her ... she said, 'Cause that's how my mother taught me.'
"So I asked my Grandma. I said, ‘Why do you cut the sides of the hams off before you put them in the oven?’ She said, ‘Well, that’s easy. I didn’t have a pan that was big enough.’ So that’s my analogy of morning skates.”
• Still waiting for the Leafs to figure things out and stop looking average. After Friday's 4-1 win over San Jose, they were 6-4-2 heading into Saturday's game in Montreal.
Said center Auston Matthews after Tuesday's 4-2 loss in Boston: "I think it’s just not good enough. We need to better. I think it comes from the leadership group. I need to be better. All of us need to be better. I think we need to look each other in the eye and hold each other accountable and put this game aside, take a couple steps forward and be better for one another.”
• Detroit captain Dylan Larkin (two goals, five assists) after his team fell to 3-8 with its 2-0 loss to the Sabres Friday night: "I haven’t been good enough offensively or defensively. You want to point fingers, point it right at me. I have to be way better for this team and carry the load up front and put the puck in the net.”
• That big expansion fee and shiny new arena in Seattle comes with a price tag. The unnamed team that opens play in 2021 started appointments to view and reserve 2,600 club seats on Thursday and said they will run from $12,540 to $15,620 per season ($285-$355 per game). And you have to reserve at least a three-year commitment. The team hasn't revealed regular ticket prices yet, other than to say season tickets will start at $50 per seat per game, which is certainly much more expensive of a cheap seat than most teams.