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Bill Hay's impact on Hall's growth leads to induction

by John Kreiser takes a look at each of the seven individuals who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Nov. 9.

Bill Hay spent 33 years as part of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Now he's being enshrined there.

Hay, the longtime chairman and CEO of the Hall, will go in as part of the Class of 2015 after a career that included an NCAA championship at Colorado College, the Stanley Cup as a player with the Chicago Blackhawks, and more than three decades with Hall of Fame, including 15 years as its leader, until his retirement on Aug. 2, 2013.

"I don't really know why I made it as a builder," he said with a laugh when asked if he could have made the Hall as a player had he not retired at age 31. "Give the Selection Committee due credit because I sat through [their meetings] for a long time and they really do debate honestly and fairly.

"But I think as a builder," he added in a more serious vein, "I leave something behind to be proud of."

Bill Hay to join dad in Hall of Fame

When Bill Hay is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, he'll become the second member of his family to be enshrined. Charles Hay was a successful executive in the oil industry in Saskatchewan who ultimately became president of Hockey Canada. He helped develop programs for certification of coaches, scholarships for students to play hockey at Canadian universities, and funding of hockey research.

Bill Hay's involvement in the hockey at all levels, and at the Hall of Fame in particular, is a case of "like father, like son," said Phil Pritchard, the Hall of Fame vice president, resource center and curator.

"Developing hockey runs in the blood in the Hay family," Pritchard said. “Bill's dad, Charlie, played an instrumental role in the developmental in Hockey Canada and the amateur game. Bill has kept that passion alive with his role with Hockey Canada's Center of Excellence and the Hockey Hall of Fame."

The contribution by the elder Hay most hockey fans would know involved the 1972 Summit Series. It was the first best-on-best meeting between Canada, represented by a team of NHL players, and the Soviet Union.

"My dad, who had just retired as president of Gulf Oil in Canada, took the job [with Hockey Canada], and the first thing he did was pull Canada away from playing world tournaments," Bill Hay said. "Without Canada in the world tournaments, it just didn't mean anything to the international people.

"Hockey Canada was formed with two mandates: To negotiate best-on-best, and that was the '72 Russia series, and research and development … improve the game, coaches, trainers, etc., at the grass-roots level. Charlie made nine trips to Russia in negotiating that series."

Canada was 1-3-1 after the first five games but won the final three, the last on a late goal by Paul Henderson. "For Canada to win that series meant an awful lot," Hay said. "It was as big as the 1980 [Lake Placid Olympics], when [the United States] beat the Russians."

-- John Kreiser

Phil Pritchard, the Hall of Fame's longtime vice president, resource center and curator, agreed that the contributions of his former boss have been invaluable to the Hall's growth and improvement, and to the growth of the sport at all levels.

"Mr. Hay has been an instrumental part of the Hockey Hall of Fame since the 1980s, both on our board and as our chairman," Pritchard said. "Always looking to preserve the game, he played a huge role in the expansion of our library and behind-the-scenes archives, to what is known now as the D.K. "Doc" Seaman Resource Centre and Archives."

Hay's road to the Hall began in the late 1950s, when he was a junior hockey star with the Regina Pats. The Montreal Canadiens owned his rights, but he and a friend hitchhiked from Saskatchewan to Colorado College, where they convinced the school to give them athletic scholarships. Hay earned a degree in geology and helped the Tigers win the 1957 NCAA championship.

"What we had were good teammates, good Canadians," Hay said. "It was early where hockey was coming in to show some prominence. Colorado College was sort of a town team. We all had jobs in restaurants to eat, and people supported us. We had an outstanding time."

The Canadiens, in the midst of winning five consecutive Stanley Cup championships, loaned him to the Calgary Stampeders of the Western Hockey League (then a minor league) that was a farm team of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1958, and he had 24 goals and 54 points in 53 games. In April 1959, Chicago bought him from Montreal for $25,000.

Hay was part of an emerging core of talent in Chicago that included forwards Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, defenseman Pierre Pilote, and goaltender Glenn Hall. Hay won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1959-60 after scoring 18 goals and 55 points in 70 games, becoming the first U.S. college-trained player to become an NHL regular.

"What I liked about it was, coming out of college and playing in the NHL and winning the Calder Trophy, that sort of set the NHL scouts up [to think that] maybe we should have a look at the talent in that college league," Hay said. "It was the Gordie Howe era; you played hockey, you didn't go to school, and they controlled you. But that was changing a little. They started recognizing that you could play hockey and be educated. You see that an awful lot now. They grow up in college. It made a big difference for me."

One year later, he was a member of Chicago's first Stanley Cup-winning team since 1938, and one of hockey's most famous trios, the "Million Dollar Line," with Hull on the left and Murray Balfour on the right. Hay led the Blackhawks in 1960-61 with 48 assists and 59 points.

"Bill was a big, strong center who could handle the puck and was smart with it," Hull said. "He and Murray Balfour, his buddy who he grew up with, weren't playing and they put us together. We had chemistry from the get-go.

"Bill was strong and could control the puck. Murray was a bulldog who forechecked and backchecked. We just worked out fabulously well."

Hay agreed the line was a perfect fit, and said he and Balfour helped make Hull's emergence as one of the NHL's great goal-scorers a little easier.

"I said to Bobby, 'You've been trying to go through everybody on the team, end to end, and it's not doing you any good,'" Hay said. "'It's simple; Murray will battle in the corners, I'll get the puck and fool around with it, I'll get it to you in front of the net and you shoot it in. That's all we have to do.' It worked good.'"

Hay had NHL career highs of 52 assists and 63 points in 1961-62, and scored a career-best 23 goals in 1963-64. He had 20 goals and 51 points in 1965-66 but decided to retire after that season to enter the family oil business. The Blackhawks convinced him to return at midseason in 1966-67; he had 20 points in 36 games and helped Chicago to a first-place finish. But when he was made available in the 1967 expansion draft and claimed by the St. Louis Blues, Hay retired again, this time for good, at age 31.

"I was young and the reason [I quit] was that it wasn't an easy life for Nancy, my wife, and three children, one of whom was handicapped," he said. "It was time to change careers, which didn't bother me."

Hay went to work in the family business, where he was every bit as good as he'd been on the ice; in fact, he was so successful he was able to become involved in hockey again. He had a role in bringing the Atlanta Flames to Alberta and later became a part-owner and president of the Calgary Flames.

He also became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee in 1980, was made a member of the Board of Directors in 1995, and became chairman and CEO in 1998. Under his leadership, the Hall of Fame had two major expansion projects and strengthened its relations with the NHL, the NHL Players' Association, Hockey Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

"[NHL president] Clarence Campbell put me on [the Selection Committee] in 1980," Hay said. "I was a long time on that, and when Danny Gallivan passed away I took over as chairman of that committee. When Scotty [Morrison] retired from the board, I moved in as chairman."

Under Hay's leadership, the Hall of Fame in Toronto made improvements and additions that included the revitalization of the Great Hall; the Doc Seaman Hockey Resource Center; the Spirit of Hockey Retail Store; and the World of Hockey Zone, which celebrates hockey as a global game.

"It's is in a good location, and with the support of the international ice hockey committee and members like that, we were able to rebuild and grow," Hay said. "One highlight for me was getting the store out to the street. We didn't have any recognition street-wise.

"I had a good group to work with. It helped having played the game at the NHL level; it helped when you brought the business into it. I'm very happy about how the Hockey Hall of Fame turned out."

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