2021 oohic bill hay

A man among men

It is safe to say no one has followed a career path in and out of the game quite like Bill Hay – from college to the NHL to the oil and gas industry to the Hockey Hall of Fame

Paul Edmonds
June 13, 2021

Among the many skills Bill Hay possessed in his hockey career, it was his vision both on and off the ice that separated him from his contemporaries.

His peripheral view of hockey extended beyond a notable National Hockey League career and into the administrative direction of the game at the amateur level.

Through it all, the benefit to Canadian hockey is immeasurable, profound and perpetual.

From Major Junior and college to the NHL to providing direction and leadership in several different executive roles that enhanced the game, his résumé is rivaled by few.

It is this unique and distinguished history that earned him the honour of being named to the Order of Hockey in Canada along with Angela James and Kevin Lowe as the Class of 2021.

“He’s quite a guy,” says former Hockey Canada president and 2017 Order of Hockey in Canada honouree Murray Costello. “In my view, the [Order] was conceived for people like Bill Hay.”

Born in Saskatoon but raised in Regina, Hay has literally spent a lifetime in the game.

His playing career included two seasons with his hometown Regina Pats to a three-year stint in the NCAA with Colorado College, where he won a national championship in 1957.

His path to the Tigers pursuant to furthering his education and hockey career is fascinating, as he hitchhiked from Regina to Colorado Springs and walked on to the school’s hockey team, arriving with some clothes, little money and his equipment.

The 85-year-old looks back and describes that period of his life as “young and drifting.”

But it obviously served him well for the future. Aside from all-star and All-American accolades during his last two seasons and a national title, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in geology and returned to Canada to start his professional career with the Calgary Stampeders of the Western Hockey League – a senior professional league – in 1958-59.

At the time his NHL rights were controlled by the Montreal Canadiens, but were sold to the Chicago Blackhawks for $25,000. Hay won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1959-60, the first of eight stellar NHL seasons.

His time in Chicago also came with a Stanley Cup championship in 1960-61, when he played on a line with Murray Balfour and Bobby Hull and fostered relationships with other teammates like Glenn Hall and Ab McDonald, along with creating a friendship with Gordie Howe.

And while most in Canada would presume the thrill of winning the Stanley Cup to be the prominent moment in a hockey career, that isn’t the case for Hay.

“Those awards are nice, but the highlight of my career was being the first NCAA college graduate to play in the NHL.

“And by being that, I think I establish a process that scouts would be looking at that league (for talent). I sort of set the precedent and others followed it.”

After retiring in 1967 after amassing 113 goals and 386 points in 506 games, Hay returned to Calgary and began a 25-year career in the oil and gas industry, running oil rigs around the world for Bow Valley Industries.

It was at this point the other side of his hockey career started as an administrator, a direction he wasn’t unfamiliar with – his father, Charles, was the first president of Hockey Canada in 1969 and notably helped negotiate the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

While working for Daryl “Doc” Seaman at Bow Valley – one of the largest companies of its type in Canada at the time – Hay helped broker a meeting between Seaman and then NHL president John Ziegler to start the process of relocating the struggling Atlanta Flames to Calgary.

Seaman, along with others like Harley Hotchkiss, became part of a group of owners that financially facilitated the team’s move to Alberta in 1980. Hay later served as the team’s president and CEO from 1991 to 1995.

It was at the same time Hay became a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee, a duty he performed from 1980 to 1997. In fact, both he and his father are enshrined members of the esteemed Hall, a rare combination of father and son inductees.

Over the years Hay also contributed to the administrative side of the game as Hockey Canada president and chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame board of directors, along with various other philanthropic initiatives to advance and improve the game in Canada.

“In comparison to most everyone else that I’ve dealt with over the years, he really has a feel for and a desire to make the game better in Canada for young players,” says Costello.

“He wanted to find a way to make our development system better. That was always top of mind in whatever Bill was working on.”

And despite what would appear to have been a busy and perhaps overwhelming period of volunteerism, Hay says it was more rewarding than laborious, especially with the support he received from his wife, Nancy, his three children and their families over the years.

“You really just go ahead and find time for it,” he says. “I learned a lot about hockey and the people that ran it. And one of the great things about hockey is how many great people there are in it.”

Through his work in the game, there is likely one other defining moment to Hay’s career and healthy list of contributions.

According to Costello, his influence and involvement in facilitating the merger in 1998 between the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and Hockey Canada was instrumental in progressing the game. This aided hockey’s national development from the grassroots level to elite entities like the Program of Excellence.

“The merger would have never happened without Bill Hay,” says Costello. “He was an exemplary leader and was remarkable everywhere he went … and he always wanted to do something to make a difference in the game.”

Costello adds what Hay contributed over the decades to Canadian hockey is extraordinary and inimitable – an uncommon melding of two reputable careers in the game.

“Most people that make a contribution to our game do it either by leading by example by the way they played the game or they came back as a volunteer in the form of administrative leaders to improve programs along the way. Bill provided both.”

Looking back on his career, Hay says he’s “enjoyed every minute” and is gratified to know he made a difference in the development of the game throughout Canada, especially in educating and helping the development of young kids.

“I’m very humbled by it,” he says of the Order recognition. “This honour is as good an honour as I’ve received because it recognizes what I’ve done.”

To date, Hay is still involved with Hockey Canada, providing mentorship to many on the executive and prominently supporting of the Bill Hay Future Leaders internship program – an initiative he started only a few years ago.

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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