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Hay talks clearing air with Gaglardi, return to hometown Blazers

'It's funny how situations change' — Don Hay
2017 JAN 5 Don Hay COL
Don Hay has been hired for a third stint behind the Kamloops Blazers' bench.

Don Hay broke briefly from speaking of his surprise return to the Kamloops Blazers to tend to his granddaughter, who was in his garage and feeling the sting after taking a puck to the wrist.

Grandpa made it all better and rejoined the phone call to talk of another wound, a professional fracture that appears to have healed, at least enough to pave the way for a third stint with his hometown WHL club, this time as an associate coach.

Blazers’ majority owner Tom Gaglardi made sweeping changes four years ago and, when the dust settled, Hay was no longer head coach of the team, his exodus packaged by the club as a retirement from the Blazers, with an appointment to an advisory role.

Hay, the winningest head coach in WHL history (750 victories), did no advising for the Blazers and instead moved on to the Portland Winterhawks, coaching for four seasons as deputy to bench boss Mike Johnston, helping the U.S. Division club to a record of 145-57-12-9 during his tenure.

The Blazers handed the reins to Serge Lajoie after Hay’s departure and his one-and-done stint preceded the hiring of Shaun Clouston, who has guided Kamloops to three consecutive B.C. Division championships. In July 2021, Clouston added GM to his job titles.

Clouston, with the help of assistant GM Tim O’Donovan, sought to round out the club’s hockey staff following the egress of assistant coach Mark Holick in June, with the Blazers set to embark on a season that will finish with the club hosting the Memorial Cup tournament at Sandman Centre.

“When we looked at the people who were available or potentially available, Don was at or near the top of the list,” said Clouston, the leader in wins (498) among active WHL head coaches. “There was a bit of a process there. Fairly early on, Tom and Don had a conversation and I think that really helped with the process. He [Hay] was very surprised when I reached out. Flattered, but a little bit surprised and I think it would be because of the departure.”

Hay on the dialogue with Gaglardi: “I talked to Tom through the process. That was a concern for me, definitely, and we talked it over. We both talked our way through it and I understood the way he was thinking and he understood my side of it, as well. We both have the ability to move past it. That was a big step in making the decision.”

Clouston and Hay, whose professional encounters have come mostly as opposing coaches, have met often in recent weeks to discuss philosophy and ascertain assurance of off-ice compatibility.

“What was so positive for me to hear from Don and other people is just how effective he’s been in that role (support role in Portland), how he’s been able to connect to the players, support the players, encourage the players, offer them advice, really just coach hockey players and we are really going benefit from all of those things,” Clouston said. “In talking to Don and hearing from other people, testimonials, his time in Portland has been very enjoyable for Don. He absolutely loves hockey. He’s really enjoyed this new role later on in his career as a support staff.”

Hay, who spoke highly of Johnston and Winterhawks’ ownership, was not expecting to hear from the Blazers.

“I was really surprised,” Hay said. “I had agreed with Mike to go back to Portland for this year. Shaun approached Mike. Mike gave him permission. I had some interesting discussions with Shaun. We didn’t really know each other, other than professionally. The more we talked, the more I got to know him and it seemed like a real good decision to make, to have that opportunity to come home.”

Clouston told KTW earlier this summer his players have room to find another gear, a relentless will to win that is necessary to become national champion.

Hay, 68, brings knowledge, experience and wisdom, having won four Memorial Cups and seven WHL championships as either a head coach or assistant coach, but Clouston values one trait above all else — ability to motivate.

“It’s a Memorial Cup year, so that’s part of it, but both of us felt to make it just about this season wasn’t the right reason,” said Clouston, whose contract extension was announced on Tuesday, along with news of Hay’s hiring. “It can be part of the reasoning. We really wanted to make sure that whoever we brought in was someone who could add to the program moving forward. Not just this year, but moving forward past this year.”

The club is working to promote part-time assistant coach Chris Murray to a full-time assistant role and expects goaltending coach Dan De Palma and part-time coach Aaron Keller to return for the 2022-2023 campaign.

In May of 2018, Hay was asked to comment on the unusual optics of his retirement from the Blazers.

Why would he step away, with his club bidding to host the 2020 Memorial Cup? How could he pass up on the opportunity to ride off into the sunset as the national champion head coach of his hometown team?

“That’s the Disney scenario,” Hay said. “That would be great if it happened that way, to walk away being the Memorial Cup champion and not have any type of regrets. When I came here four years ago, that was my dream. It didn’t happen.”

The circle of life is still open to a fairytale finish in this Disney epic.

“It’s funny how situations change,” Hay said.