Vancouver Giants coach Don Hay is focused on the road ahead
Don Hay is a three-time Memorial Cup winner, and he is accustomed to junior hockey’s long seasons, stretching from September through May. Long nights, however, are something the head coach of the Vancouver Giants is not all that familiar with.
But after dropping both ends of a home-and-home season-opening series with the Victoria Royals—6-4 at the Pacific Coliseum on September 21 and 3-2 just 24 hours later in the provincial capital—Hay looks like he may have his work cut out for him this year trying to take a young Giants team and mould it into a competitive bunch on a nightly basis.
Yet anyone that knows anything about the 58-year-old junior coaching legend is well aware that Hay won’t back down from a challenge. In fact, it’s situations like this that allow Hay to do what he does best: instill a work ethic in his players that’ll help them develop into the type of team that ultimately will get the job done.
“There are going to be some teams that have the advantage starting out because they have the experience and they have the confidence,” Hay—speaking to the Georgia Straight at the Coliseum—says of starting the year with a relatively youthful group. “I think [that] on younger teams, you have to build that confidence and that chemistry, and you do that by having success and finding ways to win.”
The greatest challenge for Hay this season will likely be finding a player—or players—to fill the massive void left by the graduation of Brendan Gallagher to the professional ranks. The Giants’ all-time leading scorer was so much more than points on a scoresheet to the coach and the hockey club. He was the kind of player Hay trusted in all situations and the kind of leader who could change a game with a goal, a hit, or even a fight if need be.
“This is a team that is really trying to look for its identity at times and a player that can make the big difference,” Hay says. “I think if you look at success in junior hockey, there is always one or two players that can make a huge difference in a game, and we lost that player. Now we’re looking for someone to replace him.”
Like the season itself, the process of identifying that next true leader is underway for Hay. It may take a month or it may take all year. The hope is that a few players step forward as the kind of guys the Giants can lean on now and for seasons to come.
Although the short-term goal is to build on the 40-win season of a year ago and continue to take steps on the path of development, the Giants have clearly set their sights on the future. The organization is looking to the 2015-16 season—the next time Western Hockey League clubs have the right to bid to host the Memorial Cup tournament—as the time they want their young team to peak.
Hay would love to have the chance to repeat what he and the Giants did in 2007, when they hosted and won the Memorial Cup at the Coliseum, but the coach can’t worry about what’s going to happen three years out.
He’s got a job to do with the group he’s got right now. And the early indications are that he has plenty of work do to.
“We’ve always had the tradition of a winning hockey club; we always want our team to be competitive; we want to make the playoffs and move ahead in the playoffs,” he explains of the goals for his 2012-13 squad. “The last couple of years, we haven’t had much playoff success, and that’s a process you go through [when] building your hockey club. It’s a game-to-game, month-to-month kind of thing. I think we have a group of young players that is really looking at this as a challenge, but those players have the ability to get better.”
And there is no question that they will. Hay is a proven winner and motivator at the junior-hockey level and one of the things he’s looking forward to most about guiding this group is the chance he’ll have to teach.
During some seasons, he’s required to do more coaching on the tactical side of the game, and other years offer him the opportunity to roll up his sleeves and work with young talent to make them better, more complete hockey players.
This year appears to be one of those years where Hay will spend time grooming the potential he has on the roster to play the game the way he wants. And he’s confident that as the season unfolds, he’ll get the results he’s seeking, because he’s seen it happen before.
“I remember in 2005-06, we lost some really good players and we had to rely on some new guys named [Milan] Lucic and [Spencer] Machacek and people like that,” Hay says of players who used their time with the Giants as a springboard to the NHL. “They kind of led the way. They took charge and really seized the opportunity to be players that made a big difference. We’re kind of looking for that. I see a real balanced hockey team and a team that’s going to work really hard.”
There is no question that an unyielding work ethic has always been the cornerstone to the success of teams with Hay at the helm. There are some questions, though, about just how far hard work will take the 2012-13 edition of the Vancouver Giants.
Will there be some struggles? Sure. They have already started. But the coach remains hopeful that the long nights will be few and far between and that this Giants season will be longer than many are predicting.