Related Biography: Team Owner Ben Hatskin
A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Ben Hatskin was born in 1918 to parents who had emigrated from Russia. A standout football player in high school, he became one of the first Canadian students to win an athletic scholarship to an American university. He played for the Sooners at the University of Oklahoma but returned to Winnipeg to play for the Blue Bombers before he graduated from college. During World War II he began raising racehorses and his wealth grew as the Hatskin family invested in everything from lumber companies to juke box distributorships.
In 1967 Hatskin attempted to win an NHL franchise during the league's expansion. His bid failed, which fueled his desire to participate in a new, rival league, the WHA, in 1972. Hatskin knew that the credibility of the WHA depended on getting established hockey stars to join its teams. He aggressively sought out the services of Bobby Hull for his team, the Winnipeg Jets, and eventually signed Hull to a contract estimated to be worth at least $1.75 million.
Although it was one of the more successful teams in the WHA, Hatskin had to ask for a public subsidy to keep the financially troubled Jets alive after 1974. The team was absorbed into the NHL in 1979 and was purchased by Barry Shenkarow. At the end of the 1995-96 season Shenkarow sold the team to a consortium of Minneapolis businessmen, who ended up moving the team to Phoenix, where it was renamed the Coyotes. A few years later, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky bought an interest in the team and started working as its general manager. In Winnipeg, Hatskin is still remembered as visionary who performed a near-miracle in bringing a major-league sports franchise to a medium-sized city on the Canadian prairie.
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