Flyers center Kevin Hayes is leaning heavily on his teammates, some of whom also played with him earlier in his career, as he copes with the shocking death of his brother, Jimmy, a former NHL player who was his best friend and was someone he “looked up to” his entire life.
Jimmy Hayes, 31, who played for four NHL teams over seven seasons, died Aug. 23 with cocaine and fentanyl in his system. His little brother has been left to press on and try to make sense of it all while also trying to rebound from his second abdominal surgery and help steer the Flyers to a playoff berth.
“There’s no playbook for this,” Hayes said Saturday night before playing in his first game of the season, a 5-2 loss in Dallas.
Hayes made his first Wells Fargo appearance of the year Tuesday and had a scary, but great night as the Flyers outlasted Calgary in overtime, 2-1.
It was a scary moment when the 6-foot-5 center got tangled with the Flames’ Elias Lindholm in the second period, went down to the ice, and then headed to the locker room in pain. Given Hayes’ recent abdominal injuries, seeing him get up slowly had some fearing the worst.
“I was a little in panic mode there,” Hayes admitted after the game.
‘One that I remember forever’
It turned out to be a great night, however, because Hayes was not seriously injured and returned for the third period. Earlier in the second period, he had scored his first goal of the season, celebrating by pointing to the heavens as a tribute to Jimmy.
“I’m happy it happened sooner rather than later, honestly,” Hayes, who has a goal and assist over his first two games, said of his tally. “It was a big goal; the trainers got the puck for me.”
He will give the puck to Jimmy’s 2-year-old son, Beau.
“It’ll be,” he said of the goal, “one that I’ll remember forever.”
The same goes for his linemate, Cam Atkinson.
After Hayes’ goal, he was greeted by Atkinson, who played with both Kevin and Jimmy at Boston College.
“I think you could see it on my face,” said Atkinson, who ended an eight-game goal drought with the overtime winner. “I think everything happens for a reason. I was the first guy to hug him. It was a big goal — not for our team, but for Kev, and like he said, we’ll all remember this forever. … I know how special that goal was for Kev. I was just happy to be a part of it. Love this guy here.”
Calgary star Johnny Gaudreau, a South Jersey native, was also Hayes’ teammate at Boston College. He watched Hayes score against his Flames and had mixed emotions.
“He’s gone through a lot these past few months,” Gaudreau said after firing 10 shots on goal in the game. “It’s hard because he’s on the other team, so I didn’t want him to score, but, personally, I was really happy for him. He deserved it.”
Getting back in the mix
Hayes is trying to get acclimated to the speed of the game, which isn’t easy after six months without playing a game. It will take some time before he gets his timing back.
In the meantime, he battles the emotional toll that his brother’s stunning death has caused him, his family, and countless others.
Hayes’ teammates are there to assist him.
“It was tough at the start; we didn’t know what to say, or if he wanted to talk to someone at all,” left winger Oskar Lindblom said early in training camp. “For me, I just gave him a text and told him I was there for him. I’m just trying to talk to him normally and trying to have fun and trying to get him to focus on something else.”
Even when he was unable to practice with the team as he healed from surgery, Hayes was always at the Flyers’ practice facility and going to meetings with his teammates.
Thoughts of his brother, his best friend, are always with him. The Flyers are also wearing helmet decals of a shamrock and Jimmy’s No. 10 to honor him this season.
“It’s just an awful thing and we all feel for him,” right winger Travis Konecny said. “At this point, we just try to do what we can do to be there to support him. At the same time, I know Haysie wants everyone to treat him the same and try to be upbeat around him and have a good time. Just cheer him up as much as we can.
“Haysie,” Konecny added, “is such a good guy and good teammate. It’s just awful what he is going through. I think this year it’s nice he has his friends. Him and [Keith] Yandle are really close, and I think that’s going to be important to have him around and help support Haysie and what he is going through.”
Yandle, 35, and Hayes grew up together in the Boston area. The Flyers defenseman — who is six years older than Hayes — remembers reffing the forward’s games when Hayes was a youngster.
Yandle said he has known Hayes’ father, Kevin Sr., “for as long as I can remember. He was one of those guys you would always see in the neighborhood. Just a great guy; always taking care of you. Would see you and buy you lunch. A guy who always gave back to the community.”
They were teammates with the New York Rangers (coached by Alain Vigneault) from 2015-16, which, Yandle said, is when “our friendship really took off, and we’ve been the best of friends since.”
They are now living together in Philadelphia.
“I think it’s a good thing I am able to be here for him,” Yandle said. “He is there for me, too, so it is one of those things. We both don’t like to be alone, so we are able to hang out every day.”
Hayes, a practical joker whose fun-loving personality immediately endeared him to his teammates when he joined the Flyers in 2019-20, has been showing Yandle around the city. He has also helped the defenseman make a smooth transition with his teammates — on and off the ice.
“Kevin is a glue guy in this locker room, and when he’s around, you can tell everyone’s mood is better,” Yandle said.
Yandle said Hayes “keeps the guys loose. I think being around the guys probably helps him. He’s one of those guys who you never really see him have a bad day. He’s a happy kid and you love being around him.”