Okay, kids, let’s connect the dots…
Without Ben Hatskin, there would have been no Winnipeg Jets 1.0.
Without Winnipeg Jets 1.0, there would have been no Bobby Hull.
Without Bobby Hull, the World Hockey Association would have lasted about three weeks.
Without the WHA surviving seven seasons, there would have been no National Hockey League franchise in River City.
Without an NHL franchise in River City, there would have been no Winnipeg Jets 2.0.
Got it? Good.
So let’s have no more talk of erecting a bronze statue in tribute to Teemu Selanne until we first salute the founding father of professional hockey in Pegtown, Ben Hatskin.
If you missed it, the latest bit of bronze bafflegab has been delivered from the print pulpit of Gary (La La) Lawless.
“It’s time,” La La writes in the Winnipeg Free Press, “for a permanent form of tribute to Teemu Selanne to be esablished here in Winnipeg. The idea of a bronzed statue of Selanne in his shooting-a-glove-out-of-the-air pose seems perfect. It’s arguably the most memorable moment in Winnipeg hockey history.”
No. It is not. Perfect or arguable.
I suppose we can forgive Gary La La his bombast, because he is, after all, a Johnny-come-lately who, I’m guessing, was hundreds, if not thousands, of miles removed from the intersection of Portage and Main on June 27, 1972. If I’m wrong and he was, indeed, in the vicinity of our famous street corner or among the throng of thousands who skipped school, called in sick or left work early to choke traffic and witness the signing of Robert Marvin Hull that afternoon, then shame on him for not recognizing that as our lunar landing vis-a-vis professional hockey.
There was, of course, play-for-pay shinny in Pegtown prior to Benny giving birth to the Jets. Alf Pike, Billy Mosienko and the boys skated into town in 1955 to form the Winnipeg Warriors and win the Western Hockey League championship. History, however, records that as an abbreviated enterprise that vanished after six seasons.
So make no mistake, Ben Hatskin is the sire of shinny as we know it in River City.
“I don’t think the NHL would have ever been in Winnipeg without the vision that Ben Hatskin and others had to bring the WHA to Winnipeg in ’72,” is how current Jets co-bankroll, Mark Chipman, put it to Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “The credit for the name that we still use today begins and ends there. And signing Hull completely legitimized the league and gave Winnipeg a chance to be the gold standard team within the league.”
Let us, therefore, be clear: All things Jets, versions 1.0 and 2.0, are the offspring of Hatskin’s mind optics. The NHL never would have given Winnipeg a first glance, never mind a second glance, if not for that June day in 1972.
Thus, you want a statue? Start at Portage and Main, where Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull changed the course of hockey history with two strokes of a pen.
That is the most memorable moment in Winnipeg hockey history, not Teemu Selanne’s celebration after one of his 76 goals, antics that today would be viewed as hot-dogging and likely earn a stern scolding from the resident curmudgeon on Coach’s Corner.
You didn’t have to be there to know this.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.