October 13, 2014

Hatskin Family Wants City To Honour Hockey History Making Maverick

This is one of the most famous photos in hockey history, if only because it literally shook the hockey world to it's knees and changed everything:

That is Bobby Hull holding a million dollar cheque. The World Hockey Association was this upstart hockey league that not many people - especially within the NHL itself - took too seriously. Then they signed away the NHL's biggest superstar and did so by making him the first million dollar hockey player.

The man who handed Hull the cheque is standing in the back. He's a Winnipeger named Ben Hatskin. He does not get a lot of press in hockey history annals. After all he pissed off the NHL royally by stealing their star and inflating salaries immensely.

Hatskin was a proud Winnipeger and by making this splash brought big league hockey and the beloved Winnipeg Jets to the hockey mad Manitoba capital.

And now Hatskin's family wants the city of Winnipeg to honour the late Ben Hatskin.

The Winnipeg Free Press' Geoff Kirbyson has the story from this past summer, telling us more about Hatskin and the family's attempts to get the city to honour the hockey trailblazer.

Michelle Rahman was one of a small handful of people who was told Bobby Hull would be signing with the Winnipeg Jets six months before it happened.

Like the others in the exclusive group, she couldn't believe it. To be honest, she thought her Uncle Benny (Hatskin) was making it up, perhaps after having a pop or two.

"He told me, 'I'm going to do this.' I thought, 'he's got to be kidding, this can't possibly happen.' But he was dead serious. It was a business proposition for him. He knew who the best player in the world was and he was going to get him. He had the idea in his head and he executed on it," she said.

"He loved Winnipeg and he knew he could make a splash. You went big or you didn't go at all. He always went big."

Indeed, many hockey fans would argue the signing of Hull at the corner of Portage and Main on June 27, 1972, was the most seminal event in the city's sporting history. It was the day professional hockey arrived in Winnipeg and the WHA quickly transformed from a dream to the real thing.

A product of the North End, Hatskin challenged NHL contracts, which prevented any freedom of movement, saying they violated anti-trust laws. A U.S. judge eventually agreed, putting in place a free-agent system that is still used today.

Here's the full Winnipeg Free Press story.

By the way, have you ever wonder whatever happened to giant cardboard cheque that literally changed hockey forever?

It is being stored under Ben Hatskin's great-nephew's bed in Virginia. When Hatskin passed away 24 years ago, much of his hockey memoribilia was distributed among family members as no one else seemed to want much of it. Somehow is niece Michelle Rahman, an employee at the University of Richmond's School of Law, ended up with it and it has been in her son's bedroom since.

Rick Brownlee, executive director of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, would like to see it displayed with the Bobby Hull exhibit for all Winnipeg hockey fans to see. The museum only opened two years ago and is always looking to add to it's collection of exhibits.

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