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Bill Hay turned playing days into Hall of Fame career as a Builder

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Bill Hay (right) with fellow 1961 Cup winners Pierre Pilote and Bobby Hull, at the Blackhawks Convention.

Bill “Red” Hay, a vital component for the Blackhawks when they won the 1961 Stanley Cup, has been voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He will be inducted this winter as a Builder for serving the sport in various capacities upon retiring after only eight seasons.

“Could I have made it as a player?” Hay was musing the other day. “I think so. People have told me I was Phil Esposito before Phil Esposito, but those might be people just trying to be nice. By the time I was 30 or 31, I just decided to move on. I was a misfit when I entered the league and a misfit when I left.”

Hay’s harsh self-assessment stems from the fact that he arrived in Chicago only after earning a geology degree from Colorado College. Hay’s plan was to pursue a career in the oil business, which he did early and successfully. But to teammates, he at first seemed like a square peg in a round hole.

“Egghead? Is that what you called me?” said Hay, laughing. “I was the first NHL regular to play after taking the university route. That just didn’t happen back then. I heard about it, including from my own team. As a college guy, I was supposed to be soft. But I straightened that out in a hurry.”

Hay won the 1960 Calder Trophy as best rookie, although his debut began haltingly.

“The first game I ever played, I never really played,” he recalled. “Rudy Pilous, our coach, was yelling at us between periods against the Rangers. He said we were moving slower than the Zamboni. I kept looking for a guy on New York named Zamboni. I didn’t know what a Zamboni was. Never had seen one of those.

“Finally, around Christmas, we had injuries so Pilous put me at center between Bobby Hull on the left and Murray Balfour. Rudy called it the ‘Million Dollar Line.’ Should have been the ‘Ten Thousand Dollar Line’ for what we were making. We had our own salary cap then, if you know what I mean. Anyway, we clicked. Bobby was tremendous, but he liked to take the puck by his own net, skate through the other team, run over a few people, and shoot it.

“I told Bobby, ‘Save yourself some energy.’ Let Murray and I do some work. We were together for quite a while, until Murray got traded. And of course, the best was winning the Cup (as alternate captain, already) in Detroit. Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilote. What a team. I also killed penalties with Eric Nesterenko, another egghead. He made a deal with Tommy Ivan, our general manager, to go to college in Toronto while still playing. Must have caught Tommy in a weak moment.”

Hay “retired” after the 1965-66 season, but Ivan convinced him to return midway during the next year, and the Blackhawks banished the “Curse of Muldoon” by finishing in first place.

“That’s when I caught Tommy in a weak moment,” Hay went on. “He paid me a lot for half a season. Then expansion came. St. Louis picked up Glenn. Because we were so close, the Blues figured he could entice me to go there. I met with the Blues, and they offered me a lot of money. I didn’t tell my wife, Nancy, how much until long after I turned it down. She said I was nuts. But we’re still happily married.”

From 1998 to 2013, Hay was Chairman/CEO of the Hall of Fame, where he served 18 years on the Board of Directors and 17 years prior on the selection committee. He also was President/COO of Hockey Canada and President/CEO of the Calgary Flames.

“It was my idea for teams to donate a ring to the Hall after they won the Cup,” said Hay. “Now the Blackhawks will present their third in six years. Amazing what they’ve done. Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough. They and their Alumni Association have been wonderful to us old guys. Brought us in for the 50th anniversary of the '61 Cup, and I went to that fan Convention a couple summers ago.

“So happy for Chicago, where I loved playing. Those guys are great. The game is different. Nutritionists, psychologists, and players have all their teeth. Plus all the technology now. I asked Glenn, who’s probably my best friend, how he’s doing with his computer the other day. He said he’s still trying to figure out his doorbell.”

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