Hays departure marks change in WHL culture, suggests owner

in Other News

 

May 10, 2018

Don Hay is retiring from his position as head coach of the Kamloops Blazers; Majority owner Tom Gaglardi said the local legend was not forced out

 

Marty Hastings / Kamloops This Week

Don Hay is retiring from his position as head coach of the Kamloops Blazers.

Majority owner Tom Gaglardi said the local legend was not forced out.

Gaglardi said he has not spoken to Hay since learning on Wednesday of his decision to leave, but news of his departure prompted a complete overhaul of hockey operations, which included the jettisoning of general manager Stu MacGregor, director of player personnel Matt Recchi and assistant coach Mike Needham.

“Don certainly understood where we were as owners and I’m not going to mince words,” Gaglardi said. “No one’s happy in Kamloops about where we are. We’ve missed the playoffs four years out of the last eight and it’s not acceptable.

“The news about Don meant that our ownership group had a deeper look at the entire organization. We think it’s time to restart, to refresh and to look at some different options moving forward.”

Hay was not at the press conference on Thursday, a gathering called on less than three hours’ notice and staged at headquarters on Mark Recchi Way.

In March, Hay told KTW he felt great and wanted to return to coach the Blazers in 2018-2019.

Calls to Hay, who was at the lake in the Shuswap, and MacGregor were not returned as of KTW’s press time. Hay is expected to address media on Friday morning.

Recchi opted not to comment.

It seems unlikely decisions of this magnitude were made so quickly, especially considering the majority owner’s words following another disappointing season in 2017-2018.

“We wanted to turn down the volume and get things analyzed properly and without any emotion,” said Gaglardi, whose Blazers fell shy of the 2018 playoffs.

The dream scenario for Kamloops-born Hay — and the army of his ardent supporters, many of them aging season-ticket holders — was for him to ride off into the sunset with a Memorial Cup victory on home ice in 2020.

That dream is dead.

Blazers’ president Don Moores said Hay will stay on in a senior advisor to hockey operations role.

“We’re all Hayzer fans, right?” Moores said. “He’s still got a lot to offer.”

MacGregor will hold the GM job until a replacement is found. He will join the Dallas Stars’ amateur scouting department. Gaglardi also owns the Stars.

“It’s disappointing,” said Needham, who was told his contract would not be renewed a few hours before the press conference. “I truly believe in the direction that the team has been going with our young players and it’s disappointing I couldn’t be a part of it to see it through.”

Gaglardi thanked Recchi for 10 years of service and said Needham is invited to apply for the vacant head coaching position.

“My heart is here,” said Needham, who was not shocked to hear his contract would not be renewed. “I’m a Blazer. I sent my son [former Blazers’ captain Matt Needham] here. I want this franchise to do well.”

The Blazers are bidding for the 2020 Memorial Cup.

Ownership knew that if a coaching change was going to be made, it had to be made this off-season, not in a Memorial Cup year.

“That was thought about,” Gaglardi said. “Is this the year to make the change, to make all the changes? That was discussed among ownership.”

Hay is an old-school coach whose tough-love methods are not always agreeable to the modern-day junior hockey player.

“It’s a concern,” Gaglardi said. “These kids are different kids. I expect that we’ll see a younger group of managers and coaches coming to Kamloops this time around. That’s the trend.

“You’re seeing it in the NHL. If you haven’t seen it in junior, you’re going to see it. I think that’s the direction we’re going to head.”

Gaglardi said a management and coaching team will likely be formed in the next four to eight weeks. The future of the current scouting staff will lie in the hands of the incoming GM, Gaglardi said.

“Our ownership group is not pleased with the large sample size of seasons we’ve put together here,” Gaglardi said. “It isn’t good enough. I can’t tell you what led to Don’s decision.

“Certainly, we’ve been contemplating changes and it came together pretty quickly.

MacGregor, who was informed on Thursday morning he will not be returning next season, just finished leading the Blazers at the WHL Bantam Draft, which was held last week in Red Deer.

“This whole thing has really happened in the last 48 hours,” Gaglardi said. “Dealing with hockey evaluation meetings before the draft is not good for the hockey club.”

Hay began his career behind the bench as an assistant coach with the Blazers in 1986. He led the Blazers to Memorial Cups as a head coach in 1994 and 1995.

He returned to Kamloops prior to the 2014-2015 season after stints coaching in the NHL, AHL and with other WHL teams. He led the Vancouver Giants to a Memorial Cup in 2007.

“These are impossible shoes to fill,” Gaglardi said. “We are grateful that we had the chance to have Don back behind the bench for the last four seasons.”