CALGARY - Canadian junior hockey has lost one of its most influential men with the death of Ed Chynoweth of cancer at age 66.
The longtime head of the Western Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League that encompasses the Western, Ontario and Quebec major junior leagues was a powerful figure in junior hockey for 37 years.
The WHL office in Calgary said Chynoweth died Tuesday morning.
He was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2006 and had recently entered a palliative care facility in Calgary.
Chynoweth, from Dodsland, Sask., was commissioner of the WHL from 1972 to 1995, with the exception of the 1979-80 season when he was GM of the Calgary Wranglers.
He was also president of the CHL from 1975 to 1995 before stepping down from both positions to purchase an expansion franchise in the WHL.
Chynoweth continued to influence the game as owner of the Kootenay Ice. He was WHL's chairman of the board twice and held that position at the time of his death.
Despite failing health, he chaired his last meeting on Feb. 4.
"He was like a second father to me because he was my mentor," Kelowna Rockets owner Bruce Hamilton said Tuesday. "It's a tough day for me."
There is little in major junior hockey that his doesn't have Chynoweth's fingerprints on it.
He brought the Western, Ontario and Quebec leagues together in 1973 to form one entity, which is now 60 teams stretching from Sydney, N.S., to Vancouver as well as eight franchises in the United States.
"He was the architect of the Canadian Hockey League as we know it today," said David Branch, OHL commissioner and Chynoweth's successor as head of the CHL.
"Our country was going through some challenges in terms of views and attitudes politically and Ed was able to bring three leagues together and there was always a sense of fairness and a passion for the game."
Canada's team at the world junior hockey championship is a result of Chynoweth convincing team owners to give up their best players for four weeks in December and January and let them play in the tournament.
"Ed was a big leader in that and a lot of people were against that because it took away prime hockey players from those prime dates when all our teams draw the best outside playoff time," said longtime Portland Winter Hawks executive Ken Hodge.
"I think the world juniors has become a huge factor in how each of the three leagues are perceived and the type of product they put forward and the type of players they develop for the National Hockey League."
The Memorial Cup, the annual championship tournament of the CHL, is a premiere hockey event coveted by host cities and watched by hundreds of thousands of people on television and in person.
Chynoweth saw the worth of having major junior teams in smaller cities, where the arenas weren't large, but where people would fill them every night.
"I think what is overlooked is why we have so many small communities owning teams is because of him," Hamilton said. "Being from Saskatchewan, he believed the Swift Currents, the Moose Jaws and the Prince Alberts of the world had to have those teams because it was a way of life in those communities and still is."
The CHL is considered the No. 1 producer of NHL players and Hamilton credits Chynoweth for forging that relationship.
"He was so overly respected from the National Hockey League level," he said. "When they became partners with us, I think they knew Ed was going to take the direction they wanted us to go and he felt was right for us."
Chynoweth saw the WHL through fractious periods, including the Graham James sex scandal in Swift Current in 1997.
"He kept the Western Hockey League together through some very difficult times, financial and otherwise," Hodge said.
"He certainly carried the torch very, very high for the Western Hockey League. We're proud to have been associated with him."
Handling the large egos of hockey boardrooms, where everyone wants an advantage, required Chynoweth's strong personality.
Hamilton says while Chynoweth listened to the opinions of others, he wasn't afraid to put people in their place.
"The boardroom was just like a hockey game and when he was in the boardroom, he competed." Branch said. "When he left the boardroom, the game was over, he'd put his arm around you and say "Where are we going to eat tonight?"'
Under Chynoweth's tenure, the WHL developed a scholarship program that provides post-secondary funding for the league's graduates.
"At the end of the day, the one thing about Ed, the players meant everything to him," Hamilton said.
His son Dean played nine seasons in the NHL and is currently head coach and general manager of the Swift Current Broncos, while another son Jeff is general manager of the Ice, who won WHL titles in 2000 and 2002 and the Memorial Cup in 2002.
The WHL's championship trophy was re-named the Ed Chynoweth Cup last year and will be awarded for the first time at the conclusion this year's playoffs.
"From the stability of our franchises coast-to-coast, not only in the Western Hockey League, to very important steps in our evolution such a full scholarship program for our players, he has been instrumental in virtually every area of our business," said Ron Robison, commissioner of the WHL.
Chynoweth was named to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 2000 and had been a member of the selection committee for the Hockey Hall of Fame since 1990.
He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Linda, and his two sons.
Funeral arrangements were pending.