KENNEWICK -- In 1995, all of Canada got to see the softer side of Don Hay when he put his arms around his players and joined them in the singing of O' Canada after winning the gold medal at the World Junior Championship.
In the 15 years since, players, opposing coaches and fans have come to know Hay as a no-nonsense kind of guy.
The coach of the Vancouver Giants tells it how it is. He expects his players to work hard, and -- in return -- he will work even harder to make them better players and better men.
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Hay ranks fourth among WHL coaches in wins with 486, tops among active coaches.
He is second in playoff wins with 100 -- one behind longtime Portland coach Ken Hodge.
He has won three Memorial Cups, second to his former coach Ernie (Punch) McLean, who has five.
In 1999, Hay was named the all-time greatest coach in Western Hockey League history by a Canadian Hockey League panel.
"The only secret is you work with good people," Hay said. "You want to surround yourself with good people, and you want players that want to play hard and believe in you, and then you go through that process. I don't think there is any secret to a Don Hay hockey team.
"I believe in hard work and I believe in players wanting to come to the rink and get better every day," Hay continued. "If they want to come to the rink and work hard, there is the opportunity for that team to have success."
In his six years behind the Giants bench, Hay, 56, has won five straight B.C. Division titles and led his team to a Memorial Cup title in 2007.
Vancouver owner Ron Toigo knew exactly what he was getting when he hired Hay in 2004.
"He worked for me when I owned Tri-City," Toigo said. "I think he and (general manager) Scott Bonner work well together. He knows the players Don wants, and it took one year for them to get it figured out. The combination of the two has been really good."
This season, Hay's Giants are in a battle with the Tri-City Americans for the Western Conference title. The series is tied at one game apiece heading into tonight's Game 3 at Pacific Coliseum.
It is the first time Vancouver and Tri-City have met in the playoffs, but it's not the first time Hay has played a part when the Americans have played for the Western Conference title.
Hay was head coach of the Kamloops Blazers in 1995 when the Americans advanced to the conference finals. Hay's Blazers won the series 4-2 and went on to win the Memorial Cup.
In 1999, the Americans again played Kamloops in the conference finals. This time, Hay was coaching Tri-City, but Kamloops still won the series, 4-0.
"When you are in the league as long as I am, you are going to face all the teams one or two times in the playoffs," Hay said. "What I remember of my two years here is we had a quick playoff run the first year, but we didn't fair too well the second year. It was nice to come in and be a part of helping turn the organization around at that time. I think that Bob Tory, Terry Bangen and Jim Hiller have done a great a job with the Americans establishing a winning tradition there."
When Hay left Kamloops, he spent three years in the NHL as an assistant and a head coach with Calgary, Phoenix and Anaheim. In 1998, Hay returned to the WHL and spent two season with the Americans -- 1998-2000. During that time he got the chance to coach his son Darrell, who had already been with Tri-City for two years.
"They were great years for me; it was fun," Hay said. "I had a chance to get my family all back together. My son was here for two years before, my wife and two daughters came. We were ingrained in the community. Coming in, Darrell was already established here, but it was fun to coach him. You don't get that opportunity very often, especially at this level. I really enjoyed my time there and helping the organization take a step forward."
And he's pleased to see the Americans have continued to work hard to be one of the top franchises in the WHL.
"Having been there and seen what the community is all about, I think it's great the fans have really embraced the new owners in Olie (Kolzig), Stu (Barnes) and Bob (Tory). They have worked hard to bring fans back. I know they are out giving back to the community and I think that's important. They have a good, competitive hockey club and that's what people want to cheer for, no matter if they win or lose, as long as they play hard and give something back."
The NHL came calling again in 2000. Once again it was the Calgary Flames. In 150 games in the NHL, Hay is 61-65-20-4.
After the 2000-01 season, he took a job with the American Hockey League's Utah Grizzlies and spent three years before once again returning to junior hockey in 2004 with Vancouver.
"I enjoy coaching at the junior level," Hay said. "It's hands-on, and I like to be hands-on. You are not only a coach, but a parent. You are a teacher, you are a disciplinarian and a role model. Our job as coaches is not just to make them good hockey players but to make them good citizens and to help them make good decisions in the future. They are young. It's an important learning stage of their life and it's nice to be part of that."
After coaching in the NHL, the AHL, 11 years in the WHL and helping Team Canada win gold at the World Juniors, Hay said it wasn't a fair question as to which was his favorite team to coach.
"Every team is different, and you enjoy every team in a different way," Hay said. "I don't coach to win. I coach to build a team. That is what I really enjoy doing. The process of forming a team, where they can have success. The success is winning. There have been a lot of good teams, a lot of good times. I've been really lucky to work with a lot of really good players. Teams only stay together for one year, they are always changing and that is the fun part and the challenge of junior hockey. There have been a lot of great teams I've had the opportunity to coach and all the organizations have been great."
As a player, Hay had a modest career in the BCJHL, WCHL and IHL. He was taken in the 12th round of the 1974 NHL draft by the Minnesota North Stars but never played a game in an NHL sweater.
All of his accolades have come as a coach. He's twice been named WHL coach of the year (1999 and 2009). In 2008, Hay was inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame, along with former NHLers Steve Yzerman -- who was born in Cranbrook -- and Cliff Ronning.
"You can't do it alone," Hay said. "You have to have good people that believe in you and good people surrounding you."