Flames family in awe

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

From picking tobacco leaves on his parents' Tillsonburg, Ont., farm to hoisting the Stanley Cup, Harley Hotchkiss' life has taken him on a journey few Canadians can match.

And yesterday that path finally landed him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Without question one of the most decorated, accomplished and respected men in Canada, Hotchkiss was finally toasted by one of the only communities he moves in that hadn't already awarded him its highest honour.

Anointed with the Order of Canada, the Alberta Order of Excellence and elected to both the Canadian petroleum and the Canadian business halls of fame, the Second World War veteran, renowned philanthropist, longtime chairman of the NHL board of governors and current Flames owner was elected to hockey's greatest shrine as a builder yesterday.

"You have to think everything in his life he's devoted and dedicated himself to, my guess is that this would be his pride and joy," said Flames president and CEO Ken King.

"He's so damn humble and self-effacing, his biggest problem might be even talking about it."

That was indeed the case yesterday when the tireless businessman was typically globetrotting -- this time in Mexico -- and unable for anything other than a brief comment to Hall organizers.

"As a farm boy growing up in Southern Ontario with hockey as a key part of my life, this is truly a very special honour," said Hotchkiss.

"I have certainly enjoyed the 26 years that I have been part of the NHL and am very humbled to be selected."

He is, without question, one of the greatest ambassadors and contributors to bless Calgary.

"There are sufficiently rare numbers of people in the world whereby you could invoke the term 'ask anyone' and get a unanimous round of applause and support and respect like you could for Harley," said King.

"He's a vegetable farmer, a global businessman and anybody you ever met walking down the street he transcends."

One of the men responsible for bringing the Flames to Calgary more than 25 years ago, he was also one of the driving forces behind keeping the team here both as an owner willing to endure losses of the last 10 years and as a chief negotiator during the recent labour strife. So revered is the former Michigan State hockey player, he was begged to stay on as chairman after his negotiation work last summer.

"His work with the CBA looms large but he could have been inducted anytime in the last 10 years," said King.

Instrumental in funding grassroots hockey programs and building several rinks around Canada, including the Saddledome, the spectacularly wealthy oilman and real estate mogul is a big supporter of Hockey Canada -- responsible for tens of millions of dollars donated to local charities, including the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

"One of his great joys is just to share it with people," said King, a beneficiary of Hotchkiss' annual fall harvest from his backyard garden.

"A lot of people send a card or phone people but he shares the bounty of the earth with just as much pride as a hockey game or one of his oil deals.

"He's a very special individual."

A Hall of Famer, indeed.


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