“There was this guy, a thin, skinny little guy, big head of hair, at the other end of the pool,” Arniel said on Wednesday. “I went to introduce myself, and it was Dale. It was funny, the other guys left, and we sat in the pool… started the conversation there. I sat and talked in the pool for about an hour, and that’s kind of where it started.
This conversation between two players who quickly became linemates and best friends lasted for two Junior Nationals, five seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, the rest of their individual NHL careers – in life in general. .
Recently, it was almost daily talks, Hawerchuk from his hospital bed, and finally from his home near Barrie, Ont., Arniel from the NHL bubble in Toronto, where he is an assistant coach for the Washington Capitals.
Separated by just 100 kilometers but unable to meet in person, their last conversation took place via Facetime on Monday evening. The night before Hawerchuk died.
“He gives me five minutes of how he feels and then he decided to tell me how we were supposed to beat the Islanders,” said Arniel. “And that’s typical. He made me laugh. We had our personal moment which was awesome. This part that I will remember forever. It is extremely difficult. ”
It’s so difficult because Hawerchuk and everyone around him were so optimistic when he finished his first battle with cancer in April.
He had initially felt bad about his annual charity golf tournament in Winnipeg, of all locations.
“He said from the start, ‘I got it. I’ll beat that, ”Arniel remembers. “Like everything else, when he was talking about winning or we were talking about anything, he was going to do it. And he did. ”
Seeing this photo of Hawerchuk ringing the “Bell of Hope” to signal the end of his treatment at Barrie Hospital has given everyone hope.
But the disease returned.
“The second really upset him,” Arniel said. “And obviously it was a lot worse so it really delayed him.
Tuesday, it took his life, far too soon, at 57.
But No. 10 came out with a bang.
The superstar who has struck so many people with his humility has contacted a bunch of them in his past 72 hours. To say goodbye to them and tell them that he loved them.
Serge Savard, Teemu Selanne, Jeremy Roenick and many others received a call that no one wants to receive, but one that everyone who has received will cherish.
“He wanted to go out on his terms,” Arniel said. “And that was saying goodbye to him. I got tons of messages from people saying they had the chance to talk to him, or had the chance to visit him last week, or had the chance to text him. I’m sure it was special for him, but it’s obviously special for all of us who have received these messages.
Arniel’s last conversation with Hawerchuk included many memories of their two Memorial Cup seasons in Cornwall, something Hawerchuk held so dear.
The same stroke of luck that brought them together – being written by the same team – brought them together in Winnipeg in 1981.
How lucky is it to be able to share a house like they did at 18, so far from home for the first time?
“We wish we could have brought some of that karma with us, the winner,” Arniel said. “But to go there at a very young age and be able to share it… we had to do a lot of things together and grow together there. We both met our wives there, had kids and got married together, so many memories to cherish.
“They were a very close band during those 80s. These are things he talks about a lot. It would have been so special to win a Cup there, like we did in Cornwall.
In one of their last conversations, Arniel heard of the Jets’ plans to hang his friend’s No.10 Banner in True North Square downtown. He heard about plans for a permanent statue to commemorate the man who put Winnipeg on the NHL map.
“He knew how much he was loved in Manitoba, in a good way,” said Arniel.
Arniel received a final text from Hawerchuk. It happened Tuesday morning, very close to the end.
“He knew it was going to happen,” Arniel said. “And at the end of the day he felt good. And he’s at peace now.
That night, after Hawerchuk was honored before the game, Washington came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Islanders, 3-2.
“I think he was looking down,” Arniel said. “And helping out a little bit on some of those crossbars and goalposts. ”
The victory allows Arniel’s team to live at least one more day in their Stanley Cup playoff series.
His best friend would be happy.
“Yes,” Arniel said. ” He would have. “