Commentary

'Doc' may cure what ails Hockey Hall

Updated: November 4, 2010, 9:45 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

[+] EnlargeDoc Seaman
Courtesy Hockey CanadaDaryl 'Doc' Seaman, left, and Harley Hotchkiss, center, were two of the original six owners of the Calgary Flames.

The past few months have not been kind to the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee.

There was an immediate uproar this past June when the selection committee announced the Class of 2010. No Joe Nieuwendyk and no Doug Gilmour. No Pat Burns. No Pavel Bure. Instead, the class includes Cammi Granato, Angela James and Dino Ciccarelli in the player category (Granato and James are the first women to be inducted, while Ciccarelli was a controversial choice), and longtime Red Wings management figure Jim Devellano and founding Calgary Flames owner Daryl "Doc" Seaman in the builder category.

In the wake of the announcement, there were calls internally for a revamping of the process by which the committee makes selections.

Funny, but it is perhaps the least-known member of this class, Seaman, that may end up being the inductee who most vividly fulfills the ideals of what a Hockey Hall of Famer and, specifically, a Hall builder should be.

But for people like Lanny McDonald, Bob Nicholson, Harley Hotchkiss and Seaman's family, none of that discussion will matter. Instead, they will celebrate the inclusion of someone about whom little is known, but from whom many have benefited.

"I'll feel sad that he isn't there [to enjoy the moment]," said Hotchkiss, part-owner of the Calgary Flames and a Hockey Hall member himself. "But I'll feel very proud that he's being recognized in this way."


You could pretty much start anywhere with Daryl "Doc" Seaman, and the story would be fresh and unknown.

So we will start far away from a rink of any kind, far away from the Hockey Hall of Fame, where the Alberta businessman and hockey lover will be enshrined Monday. We start, instead, inside a Royal Canadian Air Force bomber during World War II.

During the North African campaign, Seaman was flying one of the 82 combat missions he flew during the war. He was known as a sub chaser, but on this particular day his aircraft took enemy fire. One of his crewmen was killed and Seaman was wounded. In an effort to work the controls of the aircraft, he somehow fastened his wounded left leg to the aircraft's rudders and managed to land safely.

Doc was a wonderful friend. It was the kind of friendship you didn't have to cultivate all the time. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about Doc in some fashion.

-- Harley Hotchkiss on Doc Seaman

Years later, Seaman's close friend and partner Harley Hotchkiss would see the shrapnel scars from that day. And yet it was something Seaman rarely, if ever, discussed.

"That's kind of Doc in a nutshell, that's how he lived his life," former Flames star and fellow Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald said in a recent interview. "He felt responsible for a whole lot of other people. He was a man's man. He kind of reminded me of my father."

McDonald recalled Seaman visiting the Flames' dressing room before the team moved into the Saddledome, always standing to the side as if it wasn't his place to be even though he had been a leader in navigating the move of the team to Calgary from Atlanta, perhaps the single most important moment in the Canadian city's long sports history.

"It's not surprising that you or a whole lot of other people don't know a whole lot about Doc," McDonald explained kindly. "That's the way he liked it."

Seaman passed away on Jan. 11, 2009, after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 86. He enters the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday without the profile of many of the game's legends, but that in no way suggests he is not worthy. His accomplishments -- and they are many -- were just done without an eye to headlines, but to making a difference. His son, Bob Seaman, the oldest of three children, thinks of his father in terms of "the cowboy way."

"Do more and say less," Bob said.

Business colleagues recall Seaman sitting silently through meetings and then quickly synthesizing all that had been discussed to get to the heart of the matter. More often than not, meetings ended with a handshake from Seaman that was vice-like in its intensity.

"He was a workaholic in a sense, creating companies, helping out people," Bob Seaman said. "That was his mission in life in a lot of ways."

Born in Rouleau, Saskatchewan, Doc Seaman went to the University of Saskatchewan, where he earned a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering. After the war, he started Bow Valley Industries, an international oil and gas company. He was also an avid rancher. One of the credos to which Seaman held fast in his life was never retire, always be vital, doing things. Seaman did just that.

"Doc was a wonderful friend," Hotchkiss said. "It was the kind of friendship you didn't have to cultivate all the time. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about Doc in some fashion."


Hotchkiss met Seaman after moving to Calgary in 1951. He's not sure whether the two met playing fastball or shinny hockey, but they became fast friends. A geologist, Hotchkiss went to work for Seaman's company and then later, when he started his own business, went to Seaman for help financing that venture.

In late 1979, Hotchkiss ran into Seaman and his brother B.J. on the street in Calgary. Seaman told Hotchkiss a small group of local businessmen had just started negotiating to move the Flames from Atlanta to Calgary. The idea was the Flames would be the permanent tenants for what they businessmen hoped would be the hockey facility for the 1988 Olympics, which Calgary was bidding to host. Seaman wanted to know if Hotchkiss wanted to join their group.

"I said, 'Doc, count me in. I'm in,'" Hotchkiss recalled.

There were setbacks along the way. Businessman Nelson Skalbania came out of nowhere to purchase the team out from underneath the Seaman/Hotchkiss group. Eventually, though, Skalbania was bought out, and the Flames and the Olympics both came to Calgary under Seaman's tutelage.

"In all that time, Doc was really the quiet leader of our group," Hotchkiss said.

Having established the Flames in Calgary, Seaman's appetite for the game, and to help ensure the game's growth in Canada, did not wane. In the wake of the Summit Series in 1972, when Canada narrowly defeated a skilled Russian national team, Seaman was determined the game would not stagnate in Canada. Hotchkiss and Seaman established Project 75, a charitable foundation that provided funds for hockey programs and impacted all tenets of the game from coast to coast. It also helped build a training base for the Canadian Olympic team prior to the 1988 Olympics.

[+] EnlargeLanny McDonald
Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty ImagesLanny McDonald and the Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989.

The project helped fund cutting-edge research into injury prevention in the game. There is an outdoor rink in Black Diamond, Alberta, to which Seaman donated $500,000 in memory of his grandson Scott, Bob's son, who died suddenly from septic shock at age 18.

There is a scholarship fund for officials to pursue post-secondary education that Project 75 helped launch. There are coaching clinics whose attendance grew from a handful of participants to more than 500 annually.

Project 75 is credited with being a catalyst to Canada's ongoing success in international competition at the junior hockey level. "All of this started with the leadership of Doc," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said in a recent interview.

Back in the early 1990s, Hockey Canada merged with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to become the sport's umbrella organization across the country. Nicholson moved from Ottawa to Calgary as part of the amalgamation and soon met with Seaman. The businessman explained to the easterner how things got done out west. There would be no contracts and formalities. There would be a handshake and the word of a man.

Nicholson laughed at the memory, but he never had to remind Seaman of a promise or a deal they'd agreed to. And these weren't deals for a few sweaters and a bucket of pucks; they were deals worth millions of dollars, deals that helped support research and growth in areas of hockey as diverse as officiating, minor hockey and coaching.

"There was never a hitch on anything we talked about," Nicholson said.

Seaman's message to Nicholson, one repeated over and over, was simple: bring him programs that ensured kids who wanted to play the game and have fun could do just that, and there would be money to make the programs happen.

"He was great to Hockey Canada and great to me personally," Nicholson said.

Project 75 was renamed the Seaman Hotchkiss Hockey Foundation in 2008 and it has donated in excess of $5 million to various projects. Thanks to some $7 million in liquid assets, it's still generating funds for grassroots hockey efforts around the country and beyond, Hotchkiss said.

Among the projects the foundation has recently supported to the tune of $1 million is an 18,000-square foot facility in Toronto connected to the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice rink. It's called the D.K. (Doc) Seaman Hockey Resource Center, and it houses the Hockey Hall of Fame's enormous stick collection and much of the Hall's archival and artifact collections, among other things. Hockey Canada also shares the space.

It wasn't just hockey that tapped into Seaman's philanthropic side.

From funding and supporting employment opportunities for the less privileged to cancer research to environmental causes, Seaman's capacity for giving seemed to know no bounds. And as Bob will explain in part during his speech on behalf of his father at Monday's induction ceremony, this legacy of giving is going to go on for years to come.

"There is a magnitude of gifting that is going to blow people's minds," Bob said. "It will go on for a long time."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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