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Former Flames part-owner Hotchkiss loses cancer battle Add to ...

"We hit it off right from the first," says Pickens, now an energy tycoon with celebrity status. After Hotchkiss went into business for himself, "we made a lot of money together. Pickens took his friend on quail-hunting expeditions and eventually contributed $25-million to the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

By 1959, Hotchkiss was ready to run his own company, and found willing accomplices in a couple of savvy brothers, Daryl (Doc) and Byron (B.J.) Seaman.

"I went from maybe the most secure job in Calgary to get right out in the cold water," Hotchkiss recalled. "I had four young kids and no money. I've often looked back and said 'How in the world did I do that?' "

The company was called Alcon Petroleum, and it started out as a small shop. He moved on to another venture in 1967 and sold it in 1976, just at the point where it would have gone public. For the next three decades, he was an independent investor, sometimes farmer and philanthropist, working out of an office with his long-time assistant, Doreen Warren.

That gave him more time to devote to his community. "Even in those early years, I coached kids' hockey, helped flood the rinks, tied skates and wiped noses. I didn't have any money, but I did have the time." Even as he accumulated a lot of money, he realized that time and experience are the biggest gifts.

He poured a lot of that effort into the Flames, as part of the ownership group that brought the team north from Atlanta in 1980. Again, his partners included the Seaman brothers. It all paid off with a Stanley Cup in 1989.

But by the mid-1990s, the situation had become bleak for the Canadian clubs, except for the well-heeled Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. The low value of the Canadian dollar hammered them in the payroll sweepstakes and the teams lived in small markets compared with U.S. counterparts.

The economic troubles caused a rift in the Flames ownership, and Hotchkiss worked to rejuvenate the group, bringing in Edwards and some new faces. But the economic situation remained dire, as teams in Winnipeg and Quebec City moved south. Working with commissioner Gary Bettman, Hotchkiss persuaded NHL owners to adopt a "currency equalization program" that helped keep the Flames viable until the dollar rose.

Then came the bitter negotiations for a new players' collective agreement, and a player lockout in the 2004-2005 season. As the two sides dug in, Hotchkiss, as NHL chairman, was put in a room with Trevor Linden of the Vancouver Canucks, the head of the players' association.

They met for about 18 hours in Chicago over a couple of days in January. "There was no rhetoric," Linden recalls. "It was Harley speaking from his heart about his community, his team and his beliefs, and we were speaking from our side."

The talks did not save the season, but Linden says it was the start of an understanding that eventually achieved a new collective agreement - and a player compensation system that the Canadian teams could live with. And the two men became friends.

Joe Nieuwendyk, the Dallas Stars' general manager, had begun his NHL career with the Flames in 1987 and said Hotchkiss treated every one on the team as the member of an extended family.

"As far as being a people person, he really had that side of ownership figured out," said Nieuwendyk. "He and Becky both cared about the players. First and foremost, they cared about the team."

But he felt badly for Hotchkiss as the business changed and players left for economic reasons. "Those types of things really affected Harley - because we had such a family atmosphere created by the Flames' owners. They really built something so solid that the fans of Calgary could identify with and be a part of. Harley was really responsible for that."

Loyalty was a big part of the Hotchkiss credo. During his six two-year terms as NHL chairman, he forged a friendship with Bettman that saw the often embattled NHL commissioner call him once a week, even after he'd stepped aside from his duties on the NHL board, to inquire after his health.

Hotchkiss had sold his Flames shares, but last Tuesday, Bettman travelled to Calgary and was supposed to be the surprise guest at a dinner honouring Hotchkiss and his brain institute.

Hotchkiss was too ill to attend the dinner, so instead, the commissioner spent 2 1/2 hours visiting with him. As Hotchkiss had said a few days earlier: "Friendships are meaningful and, when you're in trouble, they are particularly meaningful."

He leaves his wife Becky and five children: Brenda, Paul, John, Richard and Jeff.

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