In this edition of the "85 Years" series, Eric Nesterenko discusses the Blackhawks career of "Million Dollar Line" member and fellow 1961 Stanley Cup champion, Bill Hay.
For my money, there weren’t many smarter players in my day than Billy Hay.
"85 YEARS" SERIES
On November 17, 1926, the Chicago Black Hawks took the ice for the first time. 85 years later, the Blackhawks hold an important place in NHL history and Chicago sports.
In celebration of the Blackhawks’ 85th anniversary, Blackhawks Magazine and chicagoblackhawks.com will profile some of the greatest players to ever don the sweater, with essays written by the people who knew them best: teammates, rivals, broadcasters and other members of the NHL community.
Check chicagoblackhawks.com every Wednesday for another entry in the "85 Years" series.
Recent "85 Years" essays:
> Doug Wilson, by Tony Esposito
> Eddie Belfour, by Darren Pang
> The Pony Line, by Harvey Wittenberg
> Pierre Pilote, by Glenn Hall
> Jonathan Toews, by Steve Yzerman
You can measure that intelligence in a lot of different ways. Billy was one of the first players in our league to come from the college ranks, and it showed in how he played the game. From the moment he joined the Blackhawks, he understood the game well, and it didn’t take him much time at all to understand the pro game.
He also was one of the funniest guys I met during my time in the NHL. The best thing he had was a great sense of humor and a genuine wit. In our locker room, there was always a lot of laughing, a lot of kidding around, with Billy usually in the middle of it. But he could also be serious, and we discussed any number of topics. He knew a lot about a lot of things, so we would discuss politics, movies, current events, just about anything else you could imagine.
I think that intelligence really paid off when he started playing with Bobby Hull on what would come to be known as “The Million Dollar Line.” Billy had a very powerful grasp of the game as a playmaker and a checker. He thought the game really well, and he learned what it took to play with a guy like Bobby.
Billy was a very effective player, and I think he really enhanced Bobby’s game. It took a certain kind of person with a certain personality to play with Bobby. You needed someone who could really cover for him, and Billy figured it out pretty quickly. You had to be willing to support him, and Billy gave Bobby the framework to display his extraordinary abilities.
I don’t say any of that to take away from what Billy did because he could really play. After Bobby and Stan Mikita, Billy was usually next in line in terms of scoring, but he also took pride in doing the little things, like back-checking and going into the corners. He was a complete player. Guys had the ability to play better when they were playing with him.
As long as the team was winning, he didn’t seem to care if he scored the winning goal or not, but the entire team felt that way. We were a genuine family. Essentially, all winning teams have that camaraderie and sense of support for each other. Bill, although he was one of the younger players at the time, really saw that and was able to fit right in. That earned him a lot of respect from the other guys in the dressing room.
Eventually, we all went our separate ways, and Billy and I lost touch. Earlier this year, though, when the Blackhawks invited us back for the 1961 team Heritage Night, we all came back together and nothing had changed. From the moment I saw him, we fell back into our old roles; we laughed a lot. It’s not that often in life that you meet guys that you have that much in common with as far as the game is concerned.
I hadn’t seen him in 30 years, and we were laughing. I think that’s extraordinary.