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Former NHL star Hawerchuk dies of cancer at 57

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Dale Hawerchuk, who "was skating before he could walk" and went on to play 16 seasons in the National Hockey League before being inducted into the Hall of Fame, died Tuesday. He was 57.

Hawerchuk died after a battle with stomach cancer, which he was initially diagnosed with last year.

"After an incredibly brave and difficult battle with cancer, our dad has passed away. My family is so proud of him and the way he fought. #HawerchukStrong," son Eric Hawerchuk wrote on social media.

Hawerchuk underwent a gastrectomy in January to remove his stomach, as well as a tumor and cancerous cells.

He achieved almost immediate success at every level of hockey he played. Hawerchuk's father liked to say his son "was skating before he could walk."

At the famed Quebec International Pee Wee Hockey Tournament in the mid-1970s, Hawerchuk scored all eight goals during an 8–1 victory in the finals, smashing the long-standing record set by the iconic Guy Lafleur.

He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1981 NHL entry draft by the Winnipeg Jets. He won the NHL's 1982 Calder Trophy as the top rookie, two years after winning the rookie-of-the year trophy in the Quebec Major Junior League with the Cornwall Royals.

- 'Ducky' -

Hawerchuk played 1,188 games with the Jets, Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers, and recorded 518 goals and 1,409 points.

The five-time all-star reached 100 points six times and scored at least 40 goals in seven seasons.

"Dale Hawerchuk put Winnipeg and the Jets on the map the day he arrived in our city in 1981, and his love for our community and remarkable Hall of Fame career will keep it there for many generations to come," said a statement from the Winnipeg Jets.

"Dale had a relationship with our fans unlike any player in the history of our franchise. Whether at home or on the world stage, ‘Ducky’ was embraced by so many, so often because of his humility and the grace by which he always carried himself."

Former Winnipeg Jet and Anaheim Duck superstar Teemu Selanne said he spoke with Hawerchuk on Monday.

Selanne and the older Hawerchuk never played on the same Jets team. Their careers first crossed paths when Selanne attended a Jets training camp as a young draft pick.

"So sad, what a incredible human being. I’m thankful that Ducky was my friend and I had a chance to talk with him yesterday and say goodbye. This world is not same place without him .... RIP DALE," Selanne wrote on social media.

Hawerchuk also won two international Canada Cup tournaments representing Canada. It was his defensive zone face-off win with under two minutes to play in the final game of the 1987 tournament that led to Mario Lemieux’s famous goal against the Soviet Union.

"The National Hockey League mourns the passing of Dale Hawerchuk, an instant and enduring star who captured the hearts of two hockey-loving cities, represented his country with class and distinction, and is one of the most decorated players in our game’s history," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

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