Hall call humbles Harley

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

Through the dark years, there were many times Harley Hotchkiss and the rest of the Calgary Flames owners could have pulled the plug.

Amid the huge financial losses, the pain from one losing season after another and the knowledge they were in tough to compete on an equal footing with the NHL's big markets, the temptation to hang a For Sale sign on the Flames was real.

But Hotchkiss, part of the club's ownership group, just couldn't bring himself to do it for a couple of reasons.

"One was that fundamental caring for the game and caring for this community, believing that having this team here was important for the community," he said.

"The other thing was I lived through the early years and the first 10 to 14 years were great. We won a Stanley Cup, we finished first in the league a couple of times, went to the Cup finals in 1986. We didn't make a lot of money but we made money each year and I'd seen that, whereas some of our newer owners hadn't.

"It was maybe a bit easier for me to say, 'I know what it can be like, so we've got to stay strong and work hard to get this done.'

"But I'll tell you something: There were a few times I woke up in the middle of the night and my wife would ask me what was wrong. I'd say, 'I'm just trying to find some way for us to get out of this and get this resolved.'

"I never fundamentally gave up hope and always believed common sense and caring for the game, all those things, would result in an agreement that would work for all of us."

For helping bring the Flames to the Stampede City in 1980 and being instrumental in keeping them here through those struggles, Hotchkiss will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday in Toronto.

Days before the ceremony, Hotchkiss, inducted into the Hall in the builders category, admits he hasn't fully grasped the fact he's about to be lauded with such a high honour.

"Back from my early days as a boy on the farm, learning to skate on farm ponds and collecting hockey pictures by sending in Bee Hive Corn Syrup labels, is such a jump to this. It hasn't sunk in," he said. "But, without being boastful, I'm proud of it and I'm excited."

The Flames were actually brought to town by Nelson Skalbania, relocated from Atlanta. But it soon became obvious to him the ownership group needed a strong local presence to help build an arena (the Saddledome) to host the club and help bring the Olympics here.

Brother B.J. and Doc Seaman invited Hotchkiss to join them and a few others who bought 50% from Skalbania. Within a year, the group -- which also included Norm Kwong, Ralph Scurfield and Norm Green -- bought the other half.

"Guys who don't get as much credit as they should on that are the Seaman brothers because it was their initiative, Doc Seaman in particular," Hotchkiss said. "We wouldn't have a franchise in Calgary if it wasn't for the initiative they took."

Not only was Hotchkiss integral in ensuring the club remained in the Stampede City, he was key to solving the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

Trevor Linden, then-president of the players' association, said Hotchkiss's integrity throughout the negotiations as chairman of the board of governors helped end the dispute.

"Harley is the type of guy whose word is his word and he would probably like to do things on a handshake," the Vancouver Canucks forward said.

That respect for others is the way Hotchkiss deals with everybody. To him, the Flames are about more than just a hockey team.

It's about family.

"Not everybody is gonna pick Calgary as the place they want to be," he said, "but we want it to be a place they believe the way they are treated is with respect."


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