With the Flyers down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 12, halfway through the third period, winger Gerry Mayhew kicked it into top gear — the only gear he knows.
On a breakaway, Mayhew sprinted into the offensive zone and attempted to lift the puck over the pad of goalie Thomas Greiss. But Mayhew tripped over Greiss’ stick and crashed into the boards, cutting his left eye and requiring 12 stitches.
Six hundred miles away in Des Moines, Iowa, Mayhew’s former Iowa Wild head coach, Tim Army, was scared but not shocked by the nature of his injury. To Army, Mayhew plays the game with a temperament similar to the one he has off the ice – always on the move, always busy. Kind of “squirrely.”
“The way Gerry got hurt is how Gerry plays,” Army said. “And that’s when he’s at his best.
“He gets in there, because he’s quick, he’s got good hands, and he’s taking it to the net, because he wants to score and he’s not worried about anything else.”
In the midst of the Flyers’ listless 2021-22 season, Mayhew’s energy has been palpable. He had two stints with the Minnesota Wild — 13 games in 2019-20 and four games in 2020-21 — during five seasons with their AHL affiliate. However, he has never stuck on an NHL roster until now.
Mayhew, 29, found an opportunity on a Flyers team decimated by injury and has carved out a consistent role in their top-nine, leading the team with six goals since Jan. 20.
“He’s had to persevere through ups and downs and getting the call up and going back,” Flyers defenseman and former Iowa Wild teammate Nick Seeler said. “So, I’m just really happy that he’s getting the opportunity here.
“It’s fun to see him succeed at the NHL level because he’s worked so hard to get here.”
Before Mayhew embarked upon his professional hockey journey as an undrafted free agent, he spent four years playing collegiate hockey at Ferris State. There, Mayhew had a knack for scoring big goals in big moments, which inspired a catchphrase within the program.
“It started out kind of jokingly, we would call it ‘Gerry Time,’” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “He’d score a big goal. You start something like that, it’s kind of ribbing him, but he embraced it.”
During the 2014 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five his freshman year, Ferris State went to overtime against Alaska Anchorage in the semifinal game with an NCAA bid on the line. Mayhew, who had already scored in regulation, notched the game-winning goal.
In the aftermath, #GerryTime spread rapidly across Twitter. As the lore of Gerry Time grew with each clutch goal, Mayhew’s teammates began to refer to him by the nickname “Hashtag.”
“He’s so easygoing and such a good teammate that he’s easy to kind of poke fun at,” Daniels said. “And yet he takes it so well. And I think that’s what endeared him to his teammates and the coaching staff and, realistically, the student body here.”
By the time Mayhew concluded his senior season, he was the program leader in playoff points. Mayhew still went undrafted and signed an amateur tryout with the Iowa Wild for the remainder of the 2016-17 season.
After playing 17 games (six goals, one assist), then-general manager Brent Flahr signed Mayhew to an AHL contract for the 2017-18 season.
“I think I adapted well to different leagues I play in,” Mayhew said. “I think my confidence rose. ... And if you have that, I think good things will happen for you and you feel like you can almost do anything out there.”
Mayhew slotted in the bottom six during the 2017-18 season, registering 16 goals and 16 assists in 72 games. His following season under new head coach Army started off slow, until Army scratched Mayhew in November.
“He was really devastated,” Army said. “And he responded to it.”
Army decided the team could better utilize Mayhew’s speed and scoring abilities in a different role. In addition to moving Mayhew up the lineup, Army subbed Mayhew in on the power play.
“For offensive guys, when they start to feel it, and certainly the power play, if it’s going, can be a springboard for an offensive player, because they start to feel the puck,” Army said. “Then, if they start to capitalize and start to get some production from that, well, it carries over to that five-on-five play. I think that happened a little bit for him.”
Army matched Mayhew up with current Phantoms captain Cal O’Reilly and Will Bitten on the top line for the latter part of the season and into the playoffs. Mayhew finished that year with 60 points in 71 regular-season games and 11 points in 11 playoff games.
The Minnesota Wild rewarded Mayhew for his career-best performance with a two-year, two-way contract.
“There were just some games where I think he had three or four goals in a game, just like all highlight reel goals,” O’Reilly said. “You’re just thinking, gee, if someone gives this guy a shot [in the NHL], he could do it up there.”
That NHL opportunity arrived the following season, on Oct. 15, 2019, when Mayhew was called up to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs. With just over a minute to play in the third period with the Maple Leafs up 4-1, Mayhew scored his first NHL goal on a tap-in.
However, Mayhew struggled to carve out a nightly role, ultimately playing 13 games (two goals) with the NHL club that season. While riding the roller coaster with each NHL call-up and loan back to the AHL, Mayhew maintained his positivity.
“It’s definitely a bummer,” Mayhew said. “Because your ultimate goal is to get [to the NHL]. But I think when you go down and you get a game and you start to feel ... it’s a great league. It’s hard to play in the American League. And I just think your confidence level is even higher. Because you know you can play in the National Hockey League.”
Every time Mayhew returned to the Iowa Wild, his teammates noticed an elevation in his play. In just 49 games, Mayhew registered 39 goals for 61 points playing on a line with Sam Anas and Nico Sturm before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short.
“He always seemed to me to be playing carefree hockey,” Sturm said. “There’s a certain beauty to that. I’m like a little bit of an overthinker. It’s very hard in this league and in this position that we’re in to not get self-doubts really quickly. And he has always struck me as a guy that knows the type of player he is.”
At the end of the season, Mayhew earned the Willie Marshall Award as the league’s leader in goals and Anas took home the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as its points leader.
“He’s someone, like myself, where as a smaller player, you kind of have to earn everything that you’re given,” Anas said. “You’re always one step behind, and you just have to work extra hard. And it just gives you a little more of a humble perspective.”
Flying high in second pro chapter
Mayhew made the Wild’s taxi squad the following season, appearing in just four games and sitting in the press box as a scratch for several others. He was sent back down to Iowa to finish the season.
Mayhew became an unrestricted free agent after the season and decided it was time for a change.
“I hated seeing him go because he’s such a good player,” Army said. “And I loved him as a kid. But I think it was good for his career.”
When free agency opened in the offseason, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, who served in the same role with the Minnesota Wild during the first two seasons of Mayhew’s pro career, expressed interest in signing him.
Mayhew did his due diligence, ringing up former Flyer Nate Prosser and O’Reilly to ask them about their experiences in the organization.
“I said nothing but good things and said I think he could get an opportunity up in Philly as well,” O’Reilly said. “So I would take the chance here and sign here. And I’m glad he did.”
On July 28, 2021, Mayhew agreed to a one-year, $800,000 deal in Philadelphia. He started the season with the Phantoms, registering 16 points in 24 games played. But as COVID and injuries ravaged the Flyers in late December, Mayhew was called up before the extended holiday break.
When Mayhew made his Flyers debut on Dec. 29 against the Seattle Kraken, he approached his latest attempt at finding a permanent spot on an NHL team with a sense of desperation.
“Don’t let anybody take a spot from you,” Mayhew said. “Try to take someone’s spot or just work as hard as you can and hopefully good things will happen. It sucks that everyone’s hurt because it’s a tough year now. But when you get an opportunity, you have to take it. You have to take it, and this time, I tried to make sure I made a statement.”
On a team snakebitten with a minus-53 goal differential, Mayhew found ways to get to the net and create scoring chances.
He scored his first goal as a Flyer on Jan. 20 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on an off-balance shot from the blue line. Mayhew tallied two in one game for the first time on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals, including a third period go-ahead goal. Interim head coach Mike Yeo promoted Mayhew to the top line mid-game.
“I am really happy for him because of his work ethic, because I’ve seen what he’s been through his whole career to get here,” Yeo said after the game. “You know what? He’s proving it. And he’s doing it.”
Where most see misfortune by looking at the Flyers’ injury-stricken lineup, Mayhew sees opportunity. Now, in another contract year, Mayhew aims to maintain his productivity and prove to the front office that he’s deserving of future investment.
“I’m starting to get more comfortable and I think if I just continue to do the little things and get pucks behind the D, not turn the puck over at the blue line, stuff like that, I think the confidence will stay,” Mayhew said.
“Even the coaches, their confidence in me will hopefully stay and we’ll see what happens when everyone gets back. But I want to be here.”