Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on December 9, 1935, Bill Hay inherited athletic genes from both his father and mother. Charles Hay was a goaltender, leading the University of Saskatchewan Huskies to the Allan Cup final in 1921, and would later serve as President of Hockey Canada, his legacy including negotiations in creating the Summit Series of 1972. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder in 1974. Bill's mother, Florence Miller, was a track and field star and Bill's maternal uncle, Earl Miller, played in the NHL during the 1920s and 1930s.
Bill enjoyed a fine junior career with the Regina Pats of the Western Canada Junior Hockey League and would later attend Colorado College on an athletic scholarship. He was twice selected to the first WCHA All-Star team as well as the NCAA West First All-American team and in 1957, led the Colorado College Tigers to the national college championship. Regarded as one of the pioneers of U.S. college hockey helping to develop NHL players, Hay was the first NCAA graduate to play regularly in the NHL.
Following a stint in the Western Hockey League, Bill Hay made his NHL debut with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1959-60, and with 18 goals and 37 assists for 55 points, was selected as the NHL's top rookie, earning the Calder Trophy. Hay centred the 'Million Dollar Line' with Bobby Hull on the left wing and Murray Balfour on the right. In his second season, he was made an alternate captain, and by the conclusion of the 1960-61 season, the Black Hawks had captured the Stanley Cup.
He decided to retire at the end of the 1965-66 season to pursue a career in business, but was convinced to return to Chicago part way through the 1966-67 season. That summer, knowing that he might again retire, the Hawks left Hay unprotected in the Expansion Draft of 1967 and he was claimed by the St. Louis Blues. Rather than report to the Blues, Bill Hay retired, although just 31 years of age. Through eight NHL seasons, Hay scored 113 goals and 273 assists for 386 points in 506 regular season games.
Bill Hay went into the oil business, where he enjoyed great success. Yet, he never strayed too far from hockey. He served as President and CEO of the Calgary Flames and like his father, was later to serve as President and COO of Hockey Canada. A great believer in grassroots development for hockey, he was instrumental in helping build the Canadian Hockey Centre of Excellence model, which has since found its way into the Hockey Canada Regional Centres, the hubs of initiation activities for those looking to get into the game.
Along with Murray Costello, then the president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA), Bill Hay led the discussions and negotiations to merge Hockey Canada and the CAHA into the Canadian Hockey Association (later to be called Hockey Canada) in 1998. He also played a significant role in working with the Seaman Hotchkiss Hockey Foundation on special projects, including Hockey Canada's Officiating Program of Excellence, the Ed Chynoweth Internship Program and the National Coach Mentorship Program.
In 1980, Bill Hay joined the Selection Committee of the Hockey Hall of Fame, serving in that capacity until 1997. Additionally, he was named to the Hall of Fame's board of directors, a role in which he served from 1995 until his retirement in 2013, including 15 years as Chairman and CEO. Under his leadership, the Hockey Hall of Fame strengthened its relations with key partners, including the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), the National Hockey League the National Hockey League Players' Association and Hockey Canada. He played an integral role in two major expansion projects at the Hall, as well as the 18,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art D.K. (Doc) Seaman Hockey Resource Centre, the home of the Hockey Hall of Fame's vast artifact and archival collections and the focal point for research into the history of Canada's great game and cultural export housed within the MasterCard Centre
The well-liked ambassador has been recognized on several occasions for his leadership. In 1992, he was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. Three years later, Hay was inducted into the Colorado College Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was inducted into the Colorado Springs Hall of Fame and in 1999, Bill Hay was inducted into the Saskatchewan Petroleum Industry Hall of Fame.