Early life and education
Ben Hatskin was born in 1917 in Winnipeg to Russian-Jewish parents. As 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 football for the Sooners at the University of Oklahoma. He also played junior hockey in Winnipeg with the 1936 Kildonan Stars. In 1936, Hatskin signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL, playing six years and helping the team win Grey Cup championships in 1939 and 1941.
During World War II Hatskin began raising racehorses and his wealth grew as the Hatskin family invested in everything from lumber companies to juke box distributorships.
In 1967, Ben Hatskin tried to win a National Hockey League franchise during the league's expansion. His bid failed, which fueled his desire to help create a new, rival league, the World Hockey Association, 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, winning 3 Avco Cups in 1976, 1978 and 1979. Hatskin had to ask for a public subsidy to keep the financially troubled Jets alive after 1974.