Hatskin Joins the Legends... by Vic Grant The Hockey Spectator February 2, 1973
The Solomons of St. Louis, the Wirtzes of Chicago, the Norrises of Detroit, and, once upon a time, the Smythes of Toronto ... all great names in the annals of hockey. But, they have to move aside now and make room for Benjamin Hatskin.
Bennie Hatskin rates a page in this hockey bible because hockey is now the center of his life. Seven years ago Hatskin was content to live in relative obscurity and count his money. Then, he chased a dream, caught it and suddenly became a public figure.
Benny Hatskin was born deep in Winnipeg's North End in 1917, which makes him 56 today. His occupation is listed in the Henderson Directory as President of Lodge Investments and Winnipeg Jets. Married, no children, He's rich but none but his accountant know how rich.
His sports background previous to hockey consisted of involvement, as a kid, in soccer, lacrosse and hockey. His involvement as an adult was managing an East Kildonan Baron Hockey team (now defunct), horse racing and as a center of note with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a thriving football team. His playing weight as a football player was 255 lbs. He weighs little more than that now but the weight is distrbuted differently.
He didn't serve in the Armed Forces, being classed 4F because of a bad leg. He is a self-made man, meaning he's made his own money.
He earned his first dollar making wooden boxes. Since then he's been involved, in one way or another, with corrugated boxes, lumber, real estate, night clubs, music and horses. Those in which he still retains interests are real estate and his role as an executive disc jockey (he owns Universal Music, a thriving juke box company). He retains financial interests in numerous other companies, too numerous to list here.
He resides in Hampton Green on Wellington Crescent, which is predominantly listed in the VIP section of preferred locations of Winnipeg.
First impression one gets of Benny Hatskin is that he's pushy. To some, that would be an understatement. But, there's another side, too, He's big enough to admit the mistakes he makes. He has friends and he has enemies. He has a tendency to force himself, and his decisions, on people. That's the way he is and, if the surface exposure is a true indication, he isn't suffering because of it.
Gentle Ben got involved in the game of hockey over ice-filled glasses.
"I had a few drinks in the company of a Denis Ball and Bill Cracklen, which was when the hockey thing started with me. Originally the three of us were to be involved with start ing up a junior club. But, Ball backed out because of his affiliation with New York Rangers and the junior league was about to be ruled as an outlaw league, Cracklen backed out because he lost interest."
"The reason I went into the World Hockey Association was because I felt it was only a matter of time before pro hockey came to Winnipeg. "I've loved my association with the game so far, although I can't say I'm here just for my health. There's also a chance to make money. Hockey isn't something like a tax write-off with me, I want to make this league go as big as any other pro sport in Canada.
"I handle my hockey interests the same way as my other business interests. Greg Kabat, who coached me as a football player, taught me to be a mean SOB. That's the way I am — I'm mean, I yell and I growl. When I have to talk my way through a business deal I can talk. If I have to push my way, I push.
"I've been knocked for not doing certain jobs in hockey and other businesses. I pay people to do my jobs and if the job isn't done then it's those people who have to answer — to me and not anyone else."
Tuesday, June 27, 1972 was the day Hatskin concluded the biggest coup of his life. It was the day they say Hatskin gave Bobby Hull an offer he couldn't refuse.
In Winnipeg they called it Bobby Hull Day, but it should have been Ben Hatskin's Day.
The forgotten man on the day that Hull officially became a member of the Winnipeg Jets was Hatskin, the one who shed all the blood, sweat and tears. The only thing Gentle Ben didn't shed in his pursuit around the continent of Robert Marvin was weight.
Hatskin was pushed out of the spotlight, but just a step away from all the pompand splendour that accompanied Hull's official signature in two countries. Pushing Ben Hatskin aside at any time proves a difficult job.
Hatskin spent more time, and more money, one the Get Hull project than anything he's undertaken in his lifetime. They laughed when Benny said he wanted Bobby Hull and had a good chance of getting him.
You have to realize that what Benny wants Benny usually gets. Hatskin was allowed to laugh back after he had Hull, but laughter isn't one of his common virtues.
"I never laugh back at people," said Hatskin. "They might be customers."
It would probably be safe to assume that if the World Hockey Association didn't have Hatskin today, it wouldn't have Hull either. It took more than a little prodding by the Winnipeg Jets owner to get the Hull show on the road. It took much more to get the rest of the league to put its money where its mouth was.
But all that is passed now, and no one will ever realize the time and expense of Hatskin. It cost Benny a bundle to get Hull to pull on the Jet No. 9 and it cost the league another bundle.
"I refer to Hull as my capital investment," explains Hatskin. "Sure, there was a lot of personal aggravation, sleepless nights and such, but it was all worthwhile."
"Do you realize that for $3 million we have a hockey player who scored more goals in his last year in the NHL than the NHL expansion teams drafted this year?"
Hatskin, while bidding for Hull, was always optimistic of getting his quarry. There were pointed fingers of ridicule and hoots of laughter, but Hatskin kept plodding.
"I was always optimistic. Hell, you have grounds for optimism when you're offering a guy a million dollars right off on top of the 10-year deal. I made $37 one year playing for the Blue Bombers, This guy was offered the chance to make $25,000 a month. Any guy would have to think more than twice before turning that down."
To this point Hull has done nothing to indicate he's worth a dollar less than what he is paid.
"The guy's worth the money just from a personality standpoint, He's playing, he's coaching, he's making public appearances and when have you ever seen Bobby Hull turn down an autograph?" says Hatskin.
There is no doubt that when Hull moved from the NHL to the WHA he started a mass exodus of players. The WHA is now regarded as a reality. A good portion of that reality came when Benny Hatskin caught his dream.
Benny Hatskin. He owns the Winnipeg Jets. He has Bobby Hull. And he didn't pay the NHL's $6 million asking price.
Any more questions about his business sense?
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