By Dickson Liong - October 20, 2014
It isn’t often that Don Hay has had to use the visiting team entrance at the Pacific Coliseum.
Hay led the Kamloops Blazers to consecutive Memorial Cup championships in 1993-94 and 1994-95 as their head coach. He was on a path to becoming a legend in the city. His success with Kamloops was followed by stints with the Calgary Flames, Phoenix Coyotes, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Tri-City Americans and Utah Grizzlies.
Then, prior to the 2004-05 season, Hay became the head coach of the Vancouver Giants.
Despite having less of the spotlight on him in Vancouver, he did much the same as he had done in Kamloops, and helped the team to their first Memorial Cup championship in 2006-07. After seven more seasons, his time with the Giants would come to an end.
Vancouver finished No. 7 in the Western Conference and went against the No. 2 Portland Winterhawks in the quarterfinal round last season. Many observers didn't give the Giants much of a chance to win a best-or-seven series, and Vancouver ended up getting swept.
Hay had signed a five-year contract extension on Aug. 27, 2010, and had one more year left. It wasn't going to be with the Giants, though. Vancouver released him from his contract on May 1 to allow him to join the Blazers, who were looking for a head coach.
"Tom Gaglardi, the Blazers' owner, contacted me last week and asked for permission to speak with Don," Ron Toigo, the Giants' majority owner, said in the team's press release at the time. "I'm sure Don is looking forward to moving home and spending more time with his family and enjoying the time with his grandkids.
“He came here when we were a young franchise and helped develop an identity for the Giants, and showed us how to win. He leaves with a Memorial Cup, a WHL championship, and five B.C Division titles. I can't say how much we appreciate what Don has done and what he has meant to the franchise."
That left Vancouver looking for a head coach, something it hadn't done for 10 seasons. The Giants were looking for someone with a different approach. They were open about the fact that they wanted someone that coached an offensive, puck-possession style of game.
Meanwhile, after the Abbsoford Heat, the AHL affiliate for the Calgary Flames, lost $12.7 million, the city had had enough. It paid $5.5 million to terminate its contract with the team on April 15.
Troy Ward, the head coach of the Heat, wasn't going to join the team at their new location, as the Flames chose not to renew his contract. Ward submitted his resume for the Giants' head-coaching job, and on July 17, they hired him. A good word put in by former Vancouver forward Lance Bouma didn't hurt either. He played for Ward with the Heat.
“When we asked him style-wise and so forth, it sounds like he has some similarities to what Mike Johnston (the former head coach of the Winterhawks) played in Portland,” Scott Bonner, the Giants' general manager, said at Ward's introductory press conference. “I think that with the dynamics that we have coming with forwards Tyler Benson and Ty Ronning, we're going to have to change our style a bit. We're going to have to play more offensive and less checking. Hopefully, he can pass the message to these kids.”
Ward has come as advertised. In eight games, the Giants were 4-4-0-0. More notably, though, they have combined for 30 goals. Add another three to the total, as they shut out the the visiting Blazers 3-0 on Oct. 17, spoiling Hay's return to the Pacific Coliseum.
“It's pretty good, we needed a win anyways whether it was against Don or not,” Giants' forward Carter Popoff said. “(A win against Don) is really indifferent for us, we lost two in a row in Prince George that were tough games so we wanted to get back on home ice and get a win.”
It was apparent the styles between Ward and Hay weren't the same.
“I think it's a lot to do with puck procession and pace,” Popoff said. “With Troy, he really wants us coming through the neutral zone and holding on to the puck, making plays. I mean, he still wants us to play hard, but I think Don preached more of a crash-and-bang style of game as you could see out there. They were working hard, they chipped it by our defencemen every chance they could. I think that's the big difference.”
As well, for some of the Giants, it has been a breath of fresh air to have a new head coach.
“I think for a lot of guys, it was a good change,” Popoff confessed. “I mean, a coach is a coach. You're going to have to play whatever style he wants you to play, so it's not a big deal to a lot of the guys.”
Nevertheless, Hay will forever be one of the WHL's most respected coaches, especially in Vancouver.