Hay may be retired from Blazers, but he’s not done . . . What next in Kamloops? . . . Little Montreal days a distant memory

Don Hay is many things . . . father . . . grandfather . . . runner . . . a man who works out regularly . . . proud Kamloopsian . . . an icon in the community . . .

One thing he isn’t is retired.

Oh, he may be done as the head coach of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, but it’s obvious he doesn’t feel that his coaching career is done.

That became evident Friday morning as Hay read a prepared statement and then answered questions from the media vultures outside the Blazers’ dressing room.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Tom Gaglardi, the majority owner of the WHL franchise, had

DonHay
Don Hay, as the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, talks with the media after a game earlier this season. (Photo: Gregg Drinnan)

announced that Hay had decided to retire. Gaglardi also said that once he learned of Hay’s decision — as incredible as it sounds, Gaglardi didn’t speak to Hay— the owners decided to move out general manager Stu MacGregor, lead assistant coach Mike Needham and Matt Recchi, the director of player personnel, as well.

Hay completed the fourth season of his second stint as the Blazers’ head coach in March. His first stint, with the Blazers’ then under  community ownership, included a couple of Memorial Cup titles. His second stint, under private ownership headed up by Gaglardi, didn’t go nearly as well.

In fact, the Blazers experienced two first-round playoff exits and two non-playoff seasons during Hay’s most-recent stop. This season, they lost their first nine games and weren’t able to dig out of that hole.

Between the end of the season, during which Hay never once indicated that he was the least bit interested in retirement, and Gaglardi’s announcement, Hay spent a month as the head coach of the Canadian under-18 team that played in the IIHF World Championship in Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk, Russia. Does that sound like something a career coach would do just before retiring?

Also, do you really think that Hay, who turned 64 on Feb. 13, wants to go out on the kind of season his team had in 2017-18?

No. No. No . . . just no to everything.

At one point on Friday, Hay was asked: “Do you think cleaning house is the right way to go?”

Hay replied: “I don’t know if that is a good question to ask somebody who just got let go, so, you know . . . who just made the decision to move or go to a different role.”

Whether that was a slip of the tongue or a look into what really went on, Hay, who has more regular-season and playoff victories than any coach in WHL history, isn’t retired. OK?

What he is right now, more than anything, is confused. That is what showed through on Friday.

He appeared to be confused and hurt by the fact that his decision to walk away from the Blazers’ bench apparently resulted in ownership clearing out three other people.

It seems that Hay had conversations with Don Moores, the franchise’s president, COO and alternate governor. (Moores, once a shareholder in the community-owned team, spoke out against the sale of the franchise in 2006 and 2007, then joined the front office two summers ago.) Moores obviously reported to Gaglardi, one thing led to another, and Hay’s decision led to three other departures.

MacGregor is gone after having completed three seasons in his second turn as general manager. He replaced Craig Bonner six games into the 2015-16 season and now, like Bonner, has had a soft landing on the Dallas Stars’ scouting staff. The Stars, of course, are owned by Gaglardi.

The Blazers also dumped Needham, who had been on the coaching staff, in either a part-time or full-time role, since 2010. Needham — wink! wink! — has been told that he can apply for the head-coaching position or the assistant’s spot from which he was just deposed.

Recchi spent 10 seasons as the director of player personnel. He is the brother of Mark Recchi, who is one of the four ex-Blazers in Gaglardi’s ownership group, the others being Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Darryl Sydor.

Hay will remain with the Blazers as an advisor, which is the same thing they did with Guy Charron after his first go-round as head coach.

I would suggest that Hay likely saw some writing on the wall and chose to walk away from the Blazers’ bench. I’m sure he is aware that this is an ownership group that has been stumbling around like a thirsty man in the Serengeti for the better part of 11 years. I’m sure Hay knows that the Blazers haven’t drafted well and that there isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. At this stage of his career, he has to know that there are a lot of different places to coach if he wants to continue, and he does. He also knows that the ownership group’s dream of playing host to the 2020 Memorial Cup tournament is a pipe dream, so that didn’t figure in any part  of his decision.

In an interview with Jon Keen, the radio voice of the Blazers, Gaglardi said: “I think we have failed in all three facets. We haven’t coached well enough, we haven’t drafted well enough and we haven’t managed well enough . . . and I guess by extension, we haven’t owned well enough.”

No, they haven’t owned well enough. Not even close. And this is on ownership. All of it. The whole mess.

This goes back to when these guys bought the franchise. In 11 seasons under this ownership group, the Blazers have missed the playoffs four teams and lost out in the first round on five occasions. They have been beaten in the second round once and made it to the Western Conference final once.

This ownership group has burned through eight head coaches, nine if you count both of Charron’s turns. Dean Clark, Greg Hawgood, Barry Smith, Scott Ferguson, Charron, Dave Hunchak, Mark Ferner, Charron (again), and Hay. Hawgood, Ferguson and Ferner were interim head coaches, signalling midseason coaching changes.

None of those coaches has moved to a higher level. At least five of them, including Hay, aren’t even coaching, at least not now.

There has been a distinct lack of excitement around the organization, which didn’t even hold a news conference when Hay returned to Kamloops after a 10-season run as head coach of the Vancouver Giants.

What must happen now is that these owners have to find a general manager who has no loyalties to anyone in the organization, and who is prepared to make like he is taking over an expansion franchise. Yes, it’s time to start over, to rebuild this organization from the ground up.

How sad are things in Kamloops, whose WHL franchise once was so successful that the city was known in hockey circles as Little Montreal?

Had you visited the Blazers’ website on Friday evening, more than 24 hours after Gaglardi announced the purge, you would have discovered that Don Hay is the team’s head coach, and Stu MacGregor is the general manager, and Mike Needham is an assistant coach, and Matt Recchi is the director of player personnel.

Embarrassing? Yes. Sad? For sure. But that seems to be the way of the Kamloops Blazers these days.

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Vipers’ owner dies at 68 … WHL hits two GMs with fines … Raiders guarantee win over Broncos

MacBeth

F Brady Ramsay (Lethbridge, 2010-14) has signed a contract for the rest of this season with the Fife Flyers (Scotland, UK Elite). He started the season with the Sheffield Steelers (England, UK Elite), scoring one goal and adding four assists in 13 games. He was released by the Steelers on Dec. 5.


A LITTLE OF THIS . . .

The hockey community is in mourning today following the death of Duncan Wray, the longtime owner of the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. Wray, who had owned the franchise since 1992, died suddenly Thursday morning, which happened to be his 68th birthday. . . . Besides owning the Vipers, Wray also was the chairman of the BCHL’s board of governors. . . . It was just on Saturday when the Vipers and Prince George Spruce Kings played the final game in the history of Vernon’s Civic Arena. Prior to the game, Wray had, according to Roger Knox of the Vernon Morning Star, “received a loud ovation” when he was introduced to the crowd. . . . Former Vipers head coach Troy Mick too Knox: “This is the saddest day of my life. Part of my heart feels ripped out. I haven’t stopped crying since this morning.” . . . Knox’s story is right here.


The WHL’s disciplinary office added to its coffers on Thursday, having fined a couple of its general managers.

Peter Anholt of the Lethbridge Hurricanes got touched for $750 “for actions following” a whlJan. 5 game against the visiting Vancouver Giants, who won that contest, 5-2.

Stu MacGregor of the Kamloops Blazers will be $500 lighter after being fined “for actions following” a game against the visiting the Spokane Chiefs on Sunday night. The Blazers won that game, 2-1.

Meanwhile, two players have drawn three-game suspensions.

D Matthew Benson of the Moose Jaw Warriors will sit out after taking a headshot major and game misconduct in a game against the host Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday.

F Max James of the Tri-City Americans got hit with three games after he took a charging major and game misconduct for a hit during a game against the host Everett Silvertips on Wednesday night.


The Swift Current Broncos, having gone all-in at the WHL trade deadline, are hoping their fans will follow suit at the box office. The team announced Thursday that it is selling SCBroncospro-rated season tickets — prices are based on the number of regular-season home games remaining — through Jan. 31.

Season-ticket holders, of course, also have the first option on their seats for the 2018 playoffs. As well, should the Broncos have 2,100 season tickets sold by Jan. 31 — they went over 2,000 on Thursday — they will be giving away one free 2017-18 season ticket during each of the last 10 home regular-season games.

According to Dianne Sletten, the team’s director of business operations, “We’ve sold (more than) 250 season tickets this week and are thrilled to see an electric atmosphere as we push forward.”

The Broncos are at home Saturday when they entertain the Edmonton Oil Kings. Three of the Broncos — D Tyler Steenbergen, Canada’s golden boy, D Artyom Minulin (Russia) and F Aleksi Heponiemi (Finland) — will be saluted for having played in the WJC in Buffalo.


The Swift Current Broncos are scheduled to play their first game since the trade deadline tonight against the host Prince Albert Raiders.

What makes this game noteworthy is that the Raiders, who are 19th in the 22-team PrinceAlbertWHL’s overall standings, have guaranteed a victory over the No. 2 Broncos.

Yes, they have!

“Here’s how it works,” reads a Raiders’ news release. “After we beat Swift Current, we’ll all be happy. To be honest, we don’t think we’re going to lose.

“In the small chance that the Broncos pull off a miracle, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll hand out ticket vouchers to all fans in attendance on the way out. Each fan can bring that voucher, as well as the used game ticket from Friday night, to the Raiders box office on Saturday, Jan. 13, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and redeem it for a free ticket to Saturday night’s game against the Moose Jaw Warriors.”

After the Raiders post the victory, they will trail the Broncos by 21 points.


On the subject of players having returned from the WJC, the Kelowna Rockets honoured D Cal Foote and F Dillon Dube prior to a 7-4 victory over the visiting Spokane Chiefs on Wednesday night. Both played for Canada in Buffalo, with Dube serving as team captain. . . . Unfortunately, Dube wasn’t in attendance on Wednesday, as a flu bug kept him out of action.

Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks welcomed back F Kieffer Bellows (U.S.) and D Henri Jokiharju (Finland) on Thursday. Both players are expected to play tonight (Friday) in Kennewick, Wash., against the Tri-City Americans. The Americans should have D Jake Bean, who also played for Canada, in their lineup tonight, too. Bean was acquired by the Americans from the Calgary Hitmen earlier in the week. He arrived in Kennewick on Thursday.


The Tri-City Americans have signed F Blake Stevenson, 16, to a WHL contract. Stevenson has five goals and three assists in 27 games with the AJHL’s Calgary Canucks and will remain there for the remainder of this season. Last season, he had 23 goals and 32 assists for the minor midget AAA CNHA Canucks. . . . The Americans selected him in the fourth round of the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft.


The Saskatoon Blades have released F Dryden Michaud, 19, and he has joined the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles. From Maple Ridge, B.C., Michaud had two goals and two assists in 29 games this season. Last season, he had one goal in 29 games with the Blades.


The Saskatoon Blades have added F Tristen Robins and F Kyle Crnkovic to their roster for a three-game road trip that features stops in Red Deer on Saturday, Cranbrook, B.C., on SaskatoonSunday, and Calgary on Tuesday. . . . Robins, who turned 16 on Nov. 15, is from Brandon and plays at the Rink Hockey Academy in Winnipeg. He is the son of former Blades G Trevor Robins. Tristen was acquired from the Regina Pats earlier in the week. They had selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 bantam draft. . . . Crnkovic, the Blades’ first-round pick in the 2017 bantam draft, played two WHL games earlier this season. He is playing for the Northern Alberta X-Treme prep team in the CSSHL. . . . The Blades won’t have F Kirby Dach on this trip. Dach, who is to turn 17 on Jan. 21, has four goals and 19 assists in 23 games. However, he hasn’t played since Dec. 27 and is sidelined on a weekly basis with an undisclosed injury.


F Ian Briscoe, 18, who was released by the Seattle Thunderbirds, has signed with the MJHL’s Dauphin Kings. Briscoe, from Winnipeg, had three assists in 24 games this season. Last season, he had two goals in 20 games. He also played 22 games with Dauphin last season, recording six goals and 10 assists. . . . Seattle selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 bantam draft.


The Moose Jaw Warriors have dropped D Brenden Kwiatkowski, 17, from their roster. He is expected to join the AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm. Kwiatkowski, who is from Grande Prairie, had one assist in 22 games with the Warriors.


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Scoreboard

THURSDAY:

No Games Scheduled.


FRIDAY (all times local):

Edmonton at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.

Swift Current at Prince Albert, 7 p.m.

Medicine Hat at Regina, 7 p.m.

Calgary at Brandon, 7:30 p.m.

Lethbridge at Red Deer, 7 p.m.

Prince George at Spokane, 7:05 p.m.

Portland vs. Tri-City, at Kennewick, Wash., 7:05 p.m.

Kamloops at Victoria, 7:05 p.m.

Kelowna vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:35 p.m.


TWEET OF THE DAY