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Humble Dale Hawerchuk remembered as a resilient competitor



Over the past few days, Mike Keenan composed a text message to Dale Hawerchuk with perhaps his most poignant piece of coaching over their 42-year relationship.

“You’ve got one more faceoff to win,” Keenan wrote of Hawerchuk’s battle with cancer.

It was Keenan’s way of showing his support for one of the most resilient and competitive players he has ever crossed paths with – a path that includes their shared role in one of the most memorable faceoffs in hockey history.​

In the waning moments of Game 3 in the 1987 Canada Cup final between Canada and the Soviet Union, two of the greatest centres ever to play the game in Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux deferred to Hawerchuk on the draw.

It’s the moment that produced the odd-man rush between Nos. 66 and 99 that is forever etched on the minds of fans across Canada.

Hawerchuk’s legacy will be equally long-lasting, just judging by the messages that flowed to his phone from around the hockey world in recent days and weeks.

One of the game’s great superstars in the glory days of the 1980s, Hawerchuk passed away at the age of 57 on Tuesday after a year-long battle with stomach cancer, his family announced.

Remembering Hawerchuk’s legendary career

Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk has died at the age of 57. A native of Toronto, Hawerchuk had experienced a recurrence of cancer in recent weeks. A five-time All-Star, Hawerchuk appeared in 1,188 games over 16 seasons with the Jets, Sabres, Blues and Flyers. Michael Farber has more on his legendary career in this essay.

The face of the original Winnipeg Jets franchise – and one of Canada’s best junior hockey players ever – was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.

Keenan, beginning his coaching journey with the Oshawa Legionaries of the Toronto Metro Jr. B league, first coached the kid they called Ducky as a 15-year-old in 1978-79. What stood out then, even for a player deemed to be a childhood prodigy who broke Guy Lafleur’s goal-scoring record in the Quebec International Pee Wee tournament, turned out to be the hallmark of Hawerchuk’s NHL career.

“He was so resilient,” Keenan said. “He was the best player on our team as a 15-year-old. He thrived on the competition as a young man, and when we got into some heavy playoff battles, the other teams would really go after him. He didn’t back down. He bounced right back up. You could tell then that he had what it takes to be a superstar in the NHL.”

The entire country saw it over the next two years, playing for the Cornwall Royals in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Over a two-year run, Hawerchuk collected 286 points in 144 regular-season games, two Memorial Cups, CHL Player of the Year, Memorial Cup MVP and QMJHL playoff MVP.

In 1981, Hawerchuk and the Royals faced Keenan’s Peterborough Petes, the defending Memorial Cup champions. The Petes allegedly threw the final game of their round-robin in order to ensure a matchup with Hawerchuk and Cornwall in the final, a perceived weaker opponent. Cornwall upended Peterborough in overtime in the final.

Keenan always denied the narrative, but he and Hawerchuk always enjoyed playful banter whenever it came up.

“I would tell him we outplayed them in the final,” Keenan said. “And he would say, ‘Maybe, but we’ve got the Cup,’ and I couldn’t really argue with that.”

The Jets drafted the can’t-miss Toronto native first overall in 1981. Hawerchuk infamously inked his contract at the corner of Portage and Main in downtown Winnipeg after GM John Ferguson had him delivered in a Brinks truck, marking a rebirth of the franchise in the NHL.

Twenty-one picks later, the Jets drafted Hawerchuk’s Cornwall teammate and lifelong friend Scott Arniel with the first selection of the second round. Arniel ended up being Hawerchuk’s teammate for seven straight seasons – one in Cornwall and six with the Jets.

“He was Winnipeg’s big news. There was big hype and he was a big-time player,” said Arniel, now an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals. “He earned it all. He didn’t just have talent, Dale had this great drive and ambition, something that I don’t know if I’ve seen. He’s one of those people that the expectation of himself was so much greater than what anyone could put on him.”

Hawerchuk exceeded those lofty expectations. Hawerchuk posted 100 or more points in six of his first seven seasons in the NHL, including five straight from 1983-88.

The Jets said in a statement on Tuesday that “Dale Hawerchuk put Winnipeg and the Jets on the map the day he arrived in our city in 1981.”

From his debut in 1981 until 1993-94, Hawerchuk was second league-wide in points (1,298) only to Gretzky (2,157), topping Lemieux (1,211), Paul Coffey (1,246) and Mark Messier (1,220). Hawerchuk was the Jets’ captain for six seasons, then wore the ‘A’ in Buffalo for the following five.

“He just hated to lose,” Arniel said. “It didn’t matter if it was golf, baseball or hockey – he was extremely competitive.”

Hawerchuk is widely considered one of the best players ever to not win a Stanley Cup. The closest he got – the only time his team ever advanced past the second round – was the 1997 Stanley Cup Final with the Philadelphia Flyers, the last games he played before retiring at the age of 34 due to a degenerative hip problem.

His Jets just never had enough to sneak past the Smythe Division stalwarts in Edmonton and Calgary.

On the international stage, Hawerchuk wrote a different story. Tasked with coaching Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup, Keenan learned his lesson from betting against Hawerchuk in the 1980 Memorial Cup.

Hawerchuk was a borderline roster player on that ‘87 squad with 10 other future Hockey Hall of Famers, but caught Keenan’s eye with his work ethic in training camp.

Poulin on Hawerchuk: ‘He was a special, special hockey player’

Dave Poulin, who had a chance to play with Dale Hawerchuk in his career, describes him as a hockey player and as a man, while Darren Dreger, who got to know Hawerchuk as a hockey dad, discusses how much he loved the sport.

“He told me: ‘We didn’t have you pencilled in, but the way you’re playing, there’s no way we can keep you out of the lineup,’” Hawerchuk recalled in a recent interview with TSN.

He ended up being one of the true difference-makers for Canada. Not only did Hawerchuk win the draw to setup the game-winning goal, but he ran interference in the neutral zone so Lemieux and Gretzky could sail toward the Soviet goal. He was also part of Canada’s 1991 Canada Cup victory.

“It was a privilege coaching him again,” Keenan said. “He was a really humble competitor, very coachable, and that’s what allowed that team to come together – because of the traits of people like Dale. These guys all came from different teams where  they were superstars, and he played a lot less than he would have in Winnipeg, but was so humble about it.”

Hawerchuk’s humility carried over to his post-playing career, coaching in the junior ranks. He was named head coach of the OHL’s Barrie Colts in 2010, where he posted five 40-plus win campaigns over nine seasons. Hawerchuk helped develop future NHL stars such as Mark Scheifele and Andrei Svechnikov in Barrie.

But Hawerchuk called the opportunity to coach his son, Ben, in the OHL one of his greatest honours in hockey.

Hawerchuk was forced to take a leave of absence from coaching last year after his cancer diagnosis. He told Arniel in a subsequent phone call: “I’m beating it. This thing isn’t going to get me.”

That appeared to be the case when Hawerchuk triumphantly rung the Bell of Hope at a Barrie hospital on April 13 at the conclusion of his treatment.

It was then, in the middle of a pandemic, that a courageous player who gave the hockey world so many indelible moments said that these trying times were a moment of opportunity for everyone to appreciate the little things.

“When you wake up, it’s refreshing,” Hawerchuk told the Winnipeg Sun. “I sure appreciate when I see that sun pop over the rise every morning. You start to realize that everything we’ve had was such a privilege. We take that privilege for granted too often. The cancer’s helped me realize that a bit. But this coronavirus is also going to help, not only me, but everybody. We can’t take so many things for granted anymore.”

Hawerchuk is survived by his wife, Crystal, and children Eric, Ben and Alexis. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli​

Source: – TSN

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‘He only gave us joy’: Argentinians pay tribute to Diego Maradona – Al Jazeera English



Buenos Aires, Argentina — Amid boisterous chants to send off a football legend who had departed too soon, Wilson Cisnero leaned against a brightly painted brick building that had a simple, small sign he had pasted on it. “God is with God,” he wrote, punctuated with the number 10.

The 25-year-old had cycled two kilometres (1.2 miles) to the famed Buenos Aires neighbourhood of La Boca because, like many others, he did not know where else to go to when he heard that Diego Maradona had passed away.

Crowds gathered outside La Bombonera, the home of Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s most celebrated football clubs, that counted Maradona as its star once.

“Argentina is Maradona,” said Cisnero, his devastation clear through his glassy gaze. “You look at all this disgrace with coronavirus and now this other disgrace,” he lamented. “Now soccer is left without its God.”

Wilson Cisnero stands in front of a sign that says ‘God is with God’ in memory of Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

That same pain was written all over the faces of Argentinians on Wednesday, as the nation came to grips with his unexpected death. To the world, he was Maradona. To Argentina, he was “El Diego” – a kid who sprouted from the slums, dazzled on the pitch like no other, dominated the sport and delivered World Cup glory that has yet to be repeated in Argentina.

Maradona suffered a cardiac arrest at his home, north of the capital of Buenos Aires, on Wednesday.  He had recently undergone brain surgery, pushing concerns over his health into the news. He was 60 years old.

“It’s something you can’t describe,” said Rafael Bellido, 49, sitting on the steps of La Bombonera, next to his partner Marcela Reynoso, as they shared mate, a traditional Argentine infusion. “El Diego was the person who represented us the best,” he said. “When he was playing, and you were watching, and you wanted to curse, he would curse. He reflected us. In addition to all the things that he did on the pitch.”

“Now is the time when Argentine society needs to give back all the joy that he gave to us,” he added. “And how long he made us happy. A long time. Every time he touched the pitch. You can’t describe it.”

Marcela Reynoso and Rafael Bellido mourn Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

As tributes rolled in from around the world, President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning, cancelling all his engagements as the government prepared to host a wake at the presidential palace. The government is expecting a million people to pay their final respects. Government buildings will be lit up in the colours of the Argentinian flag in his honour.

In a statement, Fernandez said it was Argentinians’ good fortune to have been able to live through the era of Maradona, to have seen his greatness and enjoyed his affection.

“I doubt that we will ever see another player like Maradona in every way, not only because of his technical qualities, but also because of that courage, that strength, that grit, which he showed every time he put on the jersey he had to defend. An exceptional player who only gave us joy,” he said.

“Maradona was a genuine man, he defended what he believed in,” the president added. “He is a good example of what ordinary Argentines are, so visceral. Above all that, I always stressed that he was never a fraud – he said what he didn’t like.”

By mid-afternoon, hundreds of people had gathered at the foot of the Buenos Aires obelisk, singing Maradona’s praises as a giant banner displaying his face rippled in the wind. Outside La Bombonera, the crowds burst into intermittent song and dance.

“Diego isn’t dead, Diego isn’t dead, Diego lives in the village,” the crowd would chant. Everyone had their own story, their own reason for being there and what he meant to them. His incredible highs and the lows that he also lived through, were theirs, too.

“There will always be critics,” said Reynoso. “The important thing is that he found his own happiness.”

Diego Covelo marks a sign in memory of Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

Diego Covelo, who counts himself as a member of the Maradoniana Church, founded by fans in 1988, pasted a poster of Maradona in his Boca Juniors jersey on the stadium’s exterior. He and a few friends had been holding vigil outside the clinic during the football legend’s recent admission to hospital.

“If we were there during the good times, of course we’ve got to be there during the bad times,” said Covelo, 35.

Josue Mustafa, 24, saw children playing football on his way to La Boca and thought to himself: “”That is Maradona’s legacy.

That’s going to stay with everyone – in the young ones, and in people who are older.”

Blanca Salursi, standing under a giant mural of El Diego in La Boca, remembered seeing him play as a youngster in one of Buenos Aires’ shanty towns

“I also came from the slums, you come up from the bottom,” said the 60-year-old. And with a twinkle in her teary eyes as she turned to leave, she said: “Don’t ever forget that he was the best there was.”

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Alex Ovechkin mourns the passing of legendary soccer player Diego Maradona – Russian Machine Never Breaks



Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin mourned the death of Diego Maradona on his Instagram Story, Wednesday. The Argentinan soccer legend passed away suddenly after suffering a heart attack at his home, according to the BBC.

Maradona was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, bleeding in the skull, in early November and had surgery to relieve the pressure. His doctors said he had no complications from the operation and was recovering well, according to the AP. He was initially hospitalized for dehydration, anemia, and depression.

Maradona is widely considered one of the greatest footballers of all time. The legend was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award along with Pele.

Ovechkin posted a photo of Maradona with the text “RIP.”

Maradona was the captain of Argentina’s 1986 men’s soccer team that won the World Cup. During the quarterfinal against England, the legend tallied one of the most famous soccer goals of all time. Entitled the “Hand of God goal,” Maradona touched the ball with his hand and scored. Referees should have given Maradona a yellow card, but they did not detect it and allowed the goal to stand.

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Maradona said after the game, according to Wikipedia, that the goal was scored “a little with his head, and a little with the hand of God”. The Argentines beat England 2-1 and went on to win the entire tournament. He would later be given the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.

Ovechkin is a well-documented soccer fan. The Great 8 was an ambassador for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

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During the run up to the tournament, Ovi got to meet Pele. He also attended games and took a photo in front of the World Cup Trophy.

While in Washington, Ovechkin has met some of the greatest current soccer players on the planet including Lionel Messi, Neymar, Andriy Shevchenko, Gerard Pique, and Wayne Rooney.

Ovechkin has attended several Dynamo Moscow soccer games during the offseason as well.

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Report: Ravens Discipline Strength and Conditioning Coach for COVID-19 Conduct – Sports Illustrated



The Baltimore Ravens announced on Wednesday night that they disciplined “a staff member for conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff at the Ravens.”

Sources later told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero that the Ravens disciplined a strength and conditioning coach “for not reporting symptoms and not consistently wearing a mask or tracking device.”

This comes hours after the NFL announced the Ravens-Steelers matchup that was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night has been postponed until Sunday afternoon

ESPN’s Adam Schefter originally reported that the Ravens had five players and four staffers test positive for COVID-19 this week. 

But by Wednesday evening, seven Ravens were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list with positive tests or close contacts following tracing, including running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and offensive linemen Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari.

Multiple Steelers players expressed their frustration on Twitter. 

The Ravens have lost three of their four previous games and were scheduled to travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday before Thursday’s matchup. The Steelers enter the AFC North divisional matchup undefeated. 

While the Ravens were proactive with their internal discipline, they could still face penalties from the league.

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