Saturday, January 7, 2017

Hay healthy and enjoying hometown life with Blazers

Don Hay isn’t going anywhere.
Hay will turn 63 on Feb. 13. He has his health. He loves what he’s doing. He’s back in his hometown of Kamloops, surrounded by family and friends. There is more family, including grandchildren, in Salmon Arm, about an hour to the east, where son Darrell is cutting his teeth in the coaching game as an
assistant with the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Add it all up and it means the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers is quite content with his life at this moment.
“I’d like to go as long as I can,” Hay said after his Blazers had beaten the visiting Kelowna Rockets 3-1 on Friday night. “I really enjoy coming to work every day . . . I enjoy it.”
Asked if the end of his career is in sight, Hay replied: “It’s something that we play by ear each year.”
If you missed it, it was thought that Hay posted his 700th victory as a WHL head coach on Friday. However, in the post-game conversation between Hay and reporters, it was discovered that there might be a few victories missing.
Hay was of the belief that his first victory came on Sept. 26, 1992, when the Blazers beat the host Tacoma Rockets, 8-7 in OT.
However, the WHL office had told Earl Seitz, the sports director at CFJC-TV in Kamloops, that victory No. 1 happened on Dec. 13, 1991, when the Blazers beat the visiting Spokane Chiefs, 7-4.
At the time, Hay was an assistant under head coach Tom Renney, who had left for a stint as an assistant coach with Canada’s national junior team. With Renney away, the Blazers went 6-4-0 under Hay.
“I didn’t know they added those ones on,” said Hay, who then pointed out that “I took over for Hitch when he went to the world juniors, too.”
Yes, indeed. Blazers head coach Ken Hitchcock was an assistant coach under Dave Chambers with Team Canada at the 1988 World Junior Championship. With Hitchcock gone, Hay was in charge of a WHL team for the first time.
The Blazers went 2-4-1 with Hitchcock gone and Hay in charge, meaning that his first victory as a WHL head coach actually occurred on Dec. 18, 1987, when the Blazers beat the Thunderbirds, 5-2, in Seattle.
With those two victories added to his total, it means that Hay’s 700th coaching victory actually came on Dec. 30 when the Blazers beat the Vancouver Giants, 4-2, in Langley, B.C.
So . . . when the Blazers beat the Rockets on Friday night, it left Hay with 702 victories, 40 behind Ken Hodge, the only other person with 700 WHL coaching triumphs. (This also means that Hitchcock’s record will lose two victories, leaving him with 289.)
“I can remember coaching against Portland when we were assistant coaches,” Hay said, “and Hodge was the head guy. He obviously did a great job in Portland for a lot of years.”
Hay has been coaching for a lot of years, too. He got started with the senior Kamloops Cowboys after a brief pro career that includes IHL stops with the Columbus Owls and Flint Generals.
Hay returned home to Kamloops and began what he thought would be a career as a firefighter. That all changed thanks to one angry coach.
“I got the opportunity to be player-coach when the head coach was mad at us and didn’t come to a game,” Hay said. “Everybody was kind of looking around and asking who wants to coach. I put up my hand and it’s something I’ve really enjoyed ever since.”
He has made NHL coaching stops with the Calgary Flames, Phoenix Coyotes and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. He has coached with the AHL’s Utah Grizzlies. In the WHL, he also has worked with the Tri-City Americans and Vancouver Giants. 
The circle was completed in the summer of 2014 when Hay left the Giants — he had been with them for 10 seasons and had one year left on his contract — to come home to the Blazers.
When it was suggested on Friday that he might end his career in his hometown, he replied: “I hope so . . . I’m happy here.”
But like the coach he is, he also admitted that, well, the NHL is always there.
“If there’s an offer . . . well . . . never say never,” he said. “But I’m really enjoying my time here.”
How much is he enjoying it?
“I’m excited every day to come to work. I show up here every day in the summertime,” he said. “It’s my routine.”
Here’s a look at WHL head coaches who have more than 500 regular-season victories to their credit (after games of Jan. 6):
1. Ken Hodge (Edmonton, Portland), 742
2. Don Hay (Kamloops, Tri-City, Vancouver) 702
3. Don Nachbaur (Seattle, Tri-City, Spokane) 682
4. Lorne Molleken (Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Regina) 626
5. Ernie McLean (Estevan, New Westminster) 548
6. Pat Ginnell (Flin Flon, Victoria, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, New Westminster) 518
7. Mike Williamson (Portland, Calgary, Tri-City) 516

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