Calling a bench boss a player’s coach sounds cliche but to Gene Pereira it was a motivator that Dale Hawerchuk used to get the best out of his squad.
The 57-year-old long-time Barrie Colts coach and NHL Hall of Fame inductee died of stomach cancer after a year-long battle.
Pereira witnessed Hawerchuk’s style behind the Barrie bench from day one. The colour analyst of the Barrie Colts on Rogers TV said Hawerchuk could easily adapt to the players of today.
“A part of that was Dale was passionate about hockey. He worked hard to get where he was.”
Pereira said that’s how NHL stars like Mark Scheifele and Kevin Labanc described their former junior coach. He said Mark told him once that Dale had turned him into a rink rat.
When Hawerchuk joined the Barrie Colts it was a rebuilding year as the club had come off an appearance in the OHL finals against Windsor and Pereira said he had to go through that tough kind of stretch in that first year.
“One thing with Dale was he was very competitive. He was a hard worker and not going to leave any stone unturned. He had a great way to communicate with the players. The players loved him.”
The other part of Dale’s success, reflected Pereira, was he gave his offensive players a little more leash to be creative on their own.
“You saw players like Kevin Labanc take off offensively. He won the OHL scoring title as an over-ager.”
He said the results kind of speak for themselves. Hawerchuk won four division titles with Barrie and took the club to Game Seven of the OHL final in a heartbreaking loss to London in 2013.
Off the ice, Hawerchuk was active in charity work. Pereira said friends of Hawerchuk told him he talked to everyone.
“If you didn’t bring it up, you would never know he was a Hockey Hall of Famer. He always made time for everybody. He was a genuine person. He didn’t put himself on a pedestal.”
Pereira recalled that he went down to the dressing room after one game to get some quotes and Hawerchuk had people with him. Pereira waited about 25 minutes and had to go. When he got back to his car, his phone rang and it was Hawerchuk calling to apologize.
“He loved everything about the game on and off the ice. He was a real positive person. He tackled everything with a positive light and it served him well with his players in building their development. There were calls coming from all over the world asking about Dale. The fact he touched so many people is not surprising.
Even when he was battling cancer, Pereira said Hawerchuk came by the rink a couple of times. In a chat before Christmas, Hawerchuk told him he was going to have his stomach removed.
“He was so optimistic and had done the research and talked to friends who had it done. After his chemo was done and he rang the bell, he was so happy and really excited about the future. He kept talking about returning behind the Barrie Colts bench, and it was only three months later the cancer came back.”