CALGARY – Harley Hotchkiss, one of the founding members of the Calgary Flames and a prominent Alberta businessman, has died at the age of 83.
Hotchkiss, who had been battling prostate cancer and sold his stake in the team this past season, died at home early Wednesday morning, the team said in a release.
The prime minister of Canada, the premier of Alberta, the mayor of Calgary and one of his former players all lauded the contributions Hotchkiss made to industry and to hockey.
“As a hockey fan, I will forever be grateful for his role in bringing the Flames to Calgary,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement. “Harley, through his many charitable and business initiatives, helped transform Calgary into the thriving heart of the New West.”
An oil and gas entrepreneur and philanthropist, Hotchkiss was part of the group that purchased the Atlanta Flames in 1980 and brought them to Calgary.
“Harley was a great partner and a special gift to the hockey world, business, his community and most importantly his family,” Flames chairman Murray Edwards said in a statement. “His life should be a bench mark for us all.”
Hotchkiss served as chairman of the NHL’s board of governors from 1995 to 2007 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2006.
He and NHL Players’ Association president Trevor Linden tried to prevent a season-long lockout in 2004-05 with last-gasp negotiations, but didn’t succeed in saving the season.
“Harley’s vision, his leadership, his integrity and his commitment to our game—particularly in Canada—were key components in making hockey, and the National Hockey League, as strong as they are today,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
“Harley was a cherished friend and counsellor, and I will miss him terribly.”
Nelson Skalbania and Calgary entrepreneurs Hotchkiss, Daryl (Doc) Seaman, B.J. Seaman, Norm Green, Ralph Scurfield and Norman Kwong acquired the Atlanta Flames in May 1980.
The group bought out Skalbania a year later and oversaw the construction of the Saddledome, which was built for both the Flames and the 1988 Winter Olympics.
The ownership of the Flames altered over the years, but Hotchkiss remained a fixture. Calgary won a Stanley Cup in 1989 and finished first in the NHL twice.
“We lost a tremendous man today,” former Flames forward Theoren Fleury said on Twitter. “Thank you for all you taught us. You will be missed.”
Aside from the Flames, Hotchkiss also invested in hockey development through the money he gave to Hockey Canada.
“He was such a giving person,” Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said in an interview from Ottawa. “What he’s done, along with Doc Seaman, was give millions of dollars to Hockey Canada to create so many of the programs.
“It wasn’t about high-performance, it was about building grass-roots programs. It’s made a huge difference to our game.”
Nicholson said the money funded international coaching symposiums, scholarship programs for referees and development videos. Nicholson said he spoke to Hotchkiss twice last week.
“He was trying to go into work every day,” Nicholson said.
Born July 12, 1927, in Tillsonburg, Ont., Hotchkiss served in the Second World War in the Canadian Merchant Marine before going to Michigan State to play hockey and earn a geology degree.
Hotchkiss became a mover and shaker in the oil industry by estalishing his own energy companies and sitting on the boards of several of them. He was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 1997.
“Harley’s handshake was a declaration of trust; he was an honourable man, both wise and true,” Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said in a statement. “I consider it a privilege to have known him and to have called him a friend.”
Hotchkiss and wife Becky made large donations to health care and research. The Calgary Brain Institute was renamed the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in 2004.
“I know that I speak for many Calgarians when I say that Mr. Hotchkiss was a hero in our city—a great philanthropist and true Calgarian,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in a statement. “His impact in our city will be remembered and celebrated.”