All-star game a red-letter day for coach's son

Sons love to make their fathers proud, so Idaho Steelheads defenseman Darrell Hay is a happy man this week.

Not only is Hay playing in his first all-star game after seven years as a pro, but he's also captain of the National Conference squad for tonight's ECHL All-Star Game. It starts at 7:10 at Qwest Arena.

"I'm definitely proud of him," Don Hay said from the training office of the WHL Vancouver Grizzlies team he coaches. "I guess he's had a solid year, and to be a captain of an all-star game is pretty special."

Don has followed Darrell's career as they pursue their hockey livelihoods. Don was the first coach of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes and has coached the Calgary Flames.

But Don said one of his most enjoyable times spent on the bench was when he was able to assist Idaho coach John Olver during the 2004 playoffs, when Darrell and the Steelheads won the Kelly Cup.

Don won't be at Qwest Arena tonight, but he'll still be watching his son.

"I was hoping to make it to the all-star game, but we've had such a hectic schedule," Don said. "But we'll be watching on TV (the game is available to 31 million households on NHL TV packages)."

When he tunes in, he'll be ableto see his son and two other Steelheads on the ice. Forward Derek Nesbitt and rookie center Greg Rallo also will play in the game.

Hay's wide smile will be easy to spot.

"When I first heard about the all-star thing I was surprised and shocked," Hay said. "The captain, that's the icing on the cake. I didn't expect it. I think it's one of those things where they decided to go with one of the older guys. … I'm going to wear it proudly."

Rallo said it's an honor that Hay deserves.

"He's a great leader," Rallo said. "He's always positive. You rarely ever catch him being negative, and that's a good thing to have in the locker room during the down times."

Hay, 27, grew up in a hockey family.

"I started skating when I could walk," Hay said. "I have twin sisters, and they both play. It's kind of the glue that holds the family together."

Hockey has always been a part of his life, but he doesn't take it for granted.

"Hockey's the best job I've had," Hay said. "The fact that my office is in front of 5,000 people in a place like this is something I really cherish."

Hay is the Steelheads' top-scoring defenseman with 20 points, but his biggest asset this season may be his consistency. Until he missed a game last Wednesday with flu symptoms, he was the only Steelhead to play in every game.

Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal said it's obvious that Hay is a coach's son, and that he contributes to the team with his knowledge.

"He's one of those guys who will come to me during a game and say, ‘They're doing this and this and this. What do you think?' " Laxdal said. "He's got good insight into the game."

Hay is serving as a rotating captain for the Steelheads this season along with veterans Marty Flichel and Scott Burt.

"We have a very young defense unit," Hay said. "If I can pass along any knowledge, I try to. Wearing a letter, that comes with a lot of responsibility."

It's a responsibility that might translate into a future in coaching, just like his father.

"I'd like to get into coaching," Hay said. "I've tried to learn a lot from Laxy, just the way he does things. I don't know when that time is going to come or at what level I would start at, but I'd like to try to do it."

In the meantime, there's an all-star game and the second half of the season ahead — and pranks to be played.

It's not unusual to see Hay pressing his face to the rink's glass to try to make a teammate laugh during a TV interview. When Rallo felt a stick poke between his legs during a recent newspaper interview, he didn't even have to turn around to see who was taunting him. He knew it was Hay.

"He likes to pick on me a little here and there," Rallo said. "It goes with the territory of being a rookie, I guess."

Laxdal likes to say that hockey should be fun. Hay makes sure it is.

"You have to have characters in the dressing room," Laxdal said.

Characters that make a father proud.