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Calgary-raised Cale Makar hoping to join family friend as Calder Trophy winner


Sixty years later, Bill Hay still remembers exactly how he learned of his Calder Trophy nod as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

And why he had to delay the celebrations.

“I drove home after the playoffs and the next day, I was getting ready to work for Imperial Oil in downtown Calgary,” recalled Hay, now 84 years young, from his home in Elbow Park. “The people who I carpooled with to and from work, they were outside the door, and the telephone rang and it was Gorde Hunter, who used to be with the newspaper here. He said, ‘Bill, congratulations, you won the Calder Memorial Trophy.’

“And I said, ‘Sorry Gorde, I can’t talk about it now — my ride to work is at the front door.’ So then we had some fun with it when my workday was over.

“I got a thousand bucks for it, too. That was big in those days.”

Hay told that same story to Cale Makar — the Calgary kid is among the current crop of Calder Trophy finalists after his superb freshman campaign with the Colorado Avalanche — earlier this month.

“We were howling,” said proud hockey dad Gary Makar. “Bill said to Cale, ‘If you get that call, you’re probably not going to be going to work after!’ ”

Hay is a longtime friend of the Makar family, a connection that dates to before Gary’s boys were even born.

It was over a coffee and a catch-up last summer that the Hockey Hall of Fame inductee first mentioned that he would love to see Cale have his name engraved on the top-rookie award, the same hardware he won in 1960 after his awesome introduction as Bobby Hull’s linemate with the Chicago Blackhawks.

On Monday, it could become a reality.

“It was just before Cale left for training camp and Bill made us go downstairs and look at the picture of him with the Calder Trophy. He was pretty proud of it,” Gary said. “We came back upstairs and that’s when he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if we were both on there?’

“I think that put a little sparkle in Cale’s eyes when he said it. Driving back, it was like, ‘Yeah, that would be pretty neat.’ ”

Pretty neat, indeed.

And certainly not far-fetched.

With all due respect to the third nominee, Blackhawks sharpshooter Dominik Kubalik, the Calder Trophy race was neck-and-neck all winter between two wunderkind defencemen — Makar and Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks.

The winner will be revealed Monday as part of a half-hour awards show prior to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final. (The results of the Hart, Norris, Vezina and Ted Lindsay Award ballots will also be announced during that 4:30 p.m. MT broadcast on Sportsnet.)

While Cale’s Calder Trophy candidacy hardly came as a surprise after the Calgary-raised rearguard made a dazzling debut during the Avs’ playoff run last spring, Hay recalls he barely set foot on the ice in the early stages of his own rookie season before capitalizing on an opportunity to play setup man to ‘The Golden Jet’ after Hull’s usual centre suffered an injury.

“I won the Calder in 1960 and then in ’61, we won the Stanley Cup,” said Hay, reminiscing about his work between Hull and Murray Balfour on Chicago’s famed ‘Million Dollar Line.’ “So that was a good start for me.”

No pressure, Cale.

This connection goes back to the early 1990s, when Hay was president of the Calgary Flames and Gary was a staffer at an advertising/public relations firm that was contracted by the team for media training. (Side story: Gary was working years later on an ad campaign with Flames defenceman Cale Hulse when he returned home to tell his pregnant wife Laura that he’d just met the nicest guy and they agreed this might be a good name for a son.)

Originally from Saskatchewan, Hay’s impressive resume includes 500-plus outings — featuring 113 goals and 386 points — with the Blackhawks during the Original Six era, much success in the oil business and impactful stints as a top executive with the Flames and Hockey Canada. He was also longtime chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame and was enshrined himself in the builder category in 2015.

He is, as Gary summed up neatly, “hockey royalty in Calgary.”

Cale, 21, is also making this city proud.

The blue-line blue-chipper led the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Brooks Bandits to consecutive league titles, was the first guy to be named MVP of the RBC Cup in back-to-back seasons and won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the best player in the NCAA before turning professional after his sophomore campaign at UMass. (Hay, who skated and studied geology at Colorado College, was among those who encouraged the youngster to go the post-secondary route.)

As a rookie with the Avalanche, who made him the fourth-overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft, Cale notched a dozen goals and 38 assists in 57 spins before the pandemic pause and then was a point-per-game guy in the summer restart.

The Crowchild minor-hockey grad is, without a doubt, a superstar in the making.

“He gets an awful lots of ice time in all situations — power play, a man short. So that means the coach has a lot of respect for him and confidence in him, so I like that,” Hay said. “And he makes good plays. He makes good passes at the right time, and he knows when to keep it.”

Hay has been marvelling at this “great talent” since before he could watch Cale on TV.

“It was probably in Bantam AA, or it might have even been earlier, but I just remember Bill saying, ‘Wow, that kid really skates,’ ” Gary said. “It was so cool just to have Bill there. I was coaching, and I remember I got to introduce him to our assistant coaches, because Bill will meet everybody. At that time, he was the chairman of the Hall of Fame, so that was pretty neat.

“And I remember in Cale’s second year with the Bandits, Bill couldn’t get around that well, and he still came out to Okotoks. He said, ‘I could only last two periods, but I had to see this game.’ Just unreal.

“Since then, he’ll follow him and he’ll call after he sees a game. It’s like, oh my god, Bill Hay is calling to say, ‘He sure played a hell of a game last night!’ It’s totally cool.”

This story could get even cooler Monday.

There are a lot of legendary names engraved on the Calder Memorial Trophy — from all-timers like Orr, Bossy, Lemieux and Leetch to current studs like Ovechkin, Kane and MacKinnon.

For Makar, though, it would be most meaningful to share this honour with the gentleman who won it 60 years ago … and then hustled to his summer job immediately after hearing the news.

“We didn’t even talk about the Calder once this year. Not once. It’s not in Cale’s mindset,” Gary said. “But with Bill and that legacy, you just think, ‘Wow.’

“Just to be nominated, that’s amazing. But that connection to a guy who has been there and done that, ‘special’ is the only word I can think of. And you feel blessed. If it happens, I hope we can actually visit the Hall of Fame at some point to see it.

“I mean, if it happens, who can point to a trophy and say, ‘We know that guy’? ”

wgilbertson@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WesGilbertson

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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