Are hockey IQ and playing abilities something that you obtain through training, proper conditioning and practice or something passed down genetically? Are you born with hockey smarts or are they skills that you pick up by watching the game?
Like Father Like Son?
You can look to the Howe and Sutter families and say sure, all of those things could be inherited. Even in the case of former Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux you could see several similarities between him and his father Claude Lemieux. Both played a physical game and often would cross the line with questionable hits, however, both had the knack to score goals as well. There are cases where a former NHL star has a son working towards an NHL career who never makes it anywhere. Luckily for Barrie Colts fans, you don’t have to look too far to try and answer these questions.
In 1979, Dale Hawerchuk, coach of the Barrie Colts was drafted sixth overall by the Cornwall Royals at the Priority Selection Draft. Dale made his presence known early in his hockey career with Cornwall, scoring 37 goals and 66 assists in his QMJHL rookie season. The Royals went on to win the QMJHL playoffs. Dale led the way averaging 2.50 points a game, totaling 20 goals and 25 assists through 18 games. The Royals went on to win the CHL Memorial Cup.
Back-to-Back Memorial Cups
The following season, Hawerchuk helped lead Cornwall not only to another QMJHL Cup but a second Memorial Cup victory. He led the Q in goals (81), assists (102) and points (183) and he won the Stafford Smythe Trophy which is awarded to the CHL Memorial Cup MVP.
He went on to the NHL Draft where he was selected by the Winnipeg Jets first overall in 1981. As a rookie, he produced 45 goals and 58 assists which secured him the Calder Trophy. He would play with the Winnipeg Jets for 8 seasons, 6 of which he was the team’s captain. In that time, he helped Team Canada win a pair of Canada Cup Championships.
Hawerchuk would go on to play for the Buffalo Sabres, St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers. Over 1188 NHL games, he put up 518 goals and 891 assists. In 2001, he was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame and has since been named to the Winnipeg sports Hall of Fame as well.
Barrie Colts New Era
In 2010, he was named the head coach of the Barrie Colts of the OHL, replacing Marty Williamson who served as the Ponies’ bench boss for six seasons. During his tenure, he has led the Colts to an OHL Final, multiple Division Titles while only missing the playoffs twice. Eight seasons as head coach makes him the longest-serving coach in franchise history.
Over the years he has helped mold several players into NHLers like Mark Scheifele (Jets), Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers) and Andrei Svechnikov (Carolina Hurricanes) to name a few. The 55-year-old All-Star is in the final year of his contract. In 2014 at the OHL Priority Selection Draft, Hawerchuk and the Colts would use their 106th overall pick to select Hawerchuk’s son, Ben Hawerchuk.
Ben made his debut with the Ponies in 2014-15. In 59 games as a rookie, he scored four goals and five assists. Sure, it’s not equal to his father’s production but Ben played his own style of game. Not sharing the same strengths his father possessed, he had to play a more physical game to earn a spot on the roster. Through his first four seasons with the Colts, Ben posted 40 goals and 46 assists.
Related: Top 5 Father-Son Duos in NHL History
The New Ben Hawerchuk
This season, Benny is one of Barrie’s 3 OA (over-age) players and is off to the best start of his career. His 14 goals through 20 games are not only a single goal away from his career high in a season but also the second most on the team. Though Ben has made sure to not take the physicality out of his play, he has discovered ways to keep up his intensity while executing a more disciplined game.
Ben was overlooked in his draft year but has a great opportunity to get noticed and signed by an NHL team as an OA. Playing on a club with draft prospects like Ryan Suzuki allows him a chance to get noticed. In recent seasons, many of the Colts’ undrafted players have earned NHL contracts; names like Justin Scott and Joseph Blandisi (who was drafted but passed on by the Colorado Avalanche).
To look back at our initial question, if hockey skills are passed down or acquired, I feel that this doesn’t help us come to a solid conclusion. However, it does show that through hard work and the right mentoring (like your dad being an NHL Hall of Famer as a coach) you can find your own style while remaining effective. Ben might not be the same performer as his father, however, he shares a very significant quality: a passion for hockey; and Ben displays that every night he puts on blue, yellow and red.