Brad Berry played his final hockey game at UND on a Saturday night.

The following day, he signed a pro contract with the Winnipeg Jets, jumped on an airplane flight from Grand Forks to the Twin Cities to meet up with the team and make his NHL debut against the Minnesota North Stars.

Berry went straight to the Marriott in Bloomington, Minn., to check in.

Soon, a new teammate greeted him.

It was the team's star player and team captain, Dale Hawerchuk.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Berry knew all about him. As a Winnipeg Jets draft pick playing college hockey just a couple hours south, Berry frequently watched and followed Winnipeg's fortunes. He saw Hawerchuk put up three consecutive 100-plus point seasons.

Now, they were going to be teammates.

"I was checking in at the Marriott," Berry said, "and he was one of the first guys to come and welcome me. It was tough coming from college, my first time in pro hockey. He was the leader of the team. That day and days going forward, he made me feel comfortable and like part of the group. That was a big thing for me.

"You watched him play and you saw him as a player on the ice, but you never knew what he was like off the ice. He was unbelievable as far as reaching out to people and making sure they feel welcome."

Hawerchuk died Tuesday at age 57 after battling cancer. The NHL and beyond mourned his loss.

For Berry, the head UND hockey coach, it was personal. They were teammates for four years in Winnipeg. Hawerchuk was the captain as Berry broke into the league.

"He was our best player," Berry said. "I've heard different people talk about how he's one of the most underrated, influential players to play in the NHL. I believe it. He was playing in a smaller market in Winnipeg. I don't think he got the attention that players do in New York, L.A. and Toronto. He was a gamebreaker. Every time he was on the ice, he'd make things happen. He always brought it every game.

"The toughest thing for Dale was that we played Edmonton eight times a year in their dynasty days with (Wayne) Gretzky and (Mark) Messier. I think he got overshadowed by those guys. But he was right in that group. He is an NHL Hall of Famer and deservingly so."

Berry said it was easy to understand why Hawerchuk was the team's captain for six seasons before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres.

"When you talk about the type of person he was -- everyone knows his body of work on the ice -- but off the ice, he was a team-first guy," Berry said. "He was content to live in Winnipeg. He loved the quality of life. Sometimes in the NHL, players tend to want to go to the bigger metro cities. He really loved Winnipeg and didn't have any aspirations of trying to go away through free agency. He was a humble, hard-working guy, who was very content playing in Winnipeg."

In all, Hawerchuk played in 1,188 NHL regular-season games, tallying 518 goals and 1,409 points. He retired after the 1996-97 season.

Hawerchuk had been coaching the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League.