With his nephew Beau Hayes on his hip, Kevin Hayes stepped onto the visitors’ bench ahead of the morning skate Thursday at TD Garden in Boston for the first time since his brother and former NHL player Jimmy Hayes, Beau’s dad, died at 31.

Two-year-old Beau proudly gripped Hayes’ stick, turning the Flyers center’s first time skating back in his hometown since Jimmy’s sudden death into a positive memory.

“He was having a blast,” Hayes said. “It’s cool to see guys on our team kind of treat Beau and my family with every generosity. I’m not sure how much he’ll remember, but my brother’s wife, my family, they’ll remember that for a long time.”

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Since Jimmy died on Aug. 23, Hayes has not had an easy time. He underwent abdominal surgery in the offseason and was forced to sit out the start of the season. After returning against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 13, he reinjured himself two games later and then missed six more games to close out the month. Most recently, Hayes was out for eight days with COVID-19.

But the Flyers pulled together to get Hayes through the tough times. Then-Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault let Hayes hang around the team, which is not typical for injured players in the NHL. Hayes gave Vigneault, as well as general manager Chuck Fletcher, assistant coach Michel Therrien, and then-assistant and now interim head coach Mike Yeo, shout-outs in an interview with ESPN before the game Thursday.

Support in numbers

Over the 2021 offseason, the Flyers also added several players with close connections with Kevin Hayes and his brother, which has brought Hayes comfort.

“Having guys that you can lean on and guys that have known me for a long time and guys that have known my brother for a long time makes it a lot easier. Cam [Atkinson], Keith [Yandle], Reimer [James van Riemsdyk]. G [Claude Giroux] knew my brother a little bit. Yeah, it’s really cool.”

Wednesday night, before what they all knew would be an emotional game, Hayes and some of his friends from Boston and Boston College went out to dinner.

“We went out to dinner last night with some of our college roommates and just reminiscing and telling stories,” Atkinson said. “They’re like family to me and vice versa.”

Atkinson was Jimmy’s roommate and one of his closest friends at Boston College. Thursday’s morning skate gave him his first chance to see Jimmy’s youngest son, Mac, who is 8 months old, and to see how big Beau, 2, has grown.

“I just see so many similar features to Jimmy,” said Atkinson, who stopped the interview to yell “What’s up?” to Beau as he went by. “It’s cool to see. And I’m excited for my boys to meet them as well.”

While Atkinson feels he’s helped Hayes “a little bit,” he said Yandle has played a critical role for Hayes this season. Yandle also grew up with the brothers in the Boston area, and he has been rooming with Hayes this season.

“It’s one thing to see them on a day-to-day basis,” Atkinson said. “But away from the rink and behind closed doors, when things are probably a lot tougher, I think that’s obviously been huge and super important for both of them to just kind of have each other.”

‘The Mayors of Boston’

The NHL and the Boston community have also rallied around the family. After the Hayes family announced the 11Fund in Jimmy’s memory, teams around the league put money on the board and donated all the proceeds to the fund, pushing the amount raised far past the family’s expectations.

The Hayeses have used Jimmy’s legacy to continue helping the community. The 11Fund provides scholarships to underprivileged students who attend St. John Paul School in Dorchester, Mass., where the Hayes kids studied.

Hayes said in September when he spoke about his brother’s death for the first time that the people of Boston surrounded them with overwhelming support. Since then, the Bruins, whom the Hayes family grew up cheering for, have worn a decal on their helmets honoring Jimmy. They also played a video tribute to him during their Oct. 30 contest against the Florida Panthers, as Jimmy played for both teams during his seven-year NHL career.

“The way that the Bruins and the Boston community kind of have represented my brother and my family definitely hasn’t gone unnoticed and we really appreciate it,” Hayes said.

“The Bruins have been amazing with my family and my brother’s family,” Hayes told ESPN, “especially Brad Marchand. He has played street hockey with [Jimmy’s son] Beau. He went down to the local Dorchester rink and hung out with them, got them sticks, got them pucks. Beau wants to be Kevin Hayes and Brad Marchand every single morning when he wakes up.”

The community is just giving back to a family that’s been giving back to it for years, Atkinson said. He described the Hayes family as “royalty,” the “mayors of Boston.” Whenever he visited the Hayeses, Atkinson was impressed by the community’s reaction to them.

“Mr. Hayes can go anywhere,” Atkinson said of their father, Kevin Sr. “He seemed like he could park anywhere on the street and on the sidewalk, and no one would say a thing to him.”

The Hayeses are from Dorchester, a neighborhood within Boston that had produced only one NHL player (Chris O’Sullivan) before them. They went on to play for a local school, Boston College, where they won a combined six Beanpots (the defacto city championship) in seven years, and each won a national championship. After college, they both went on to the NHL, where in 2015, Jimmy fulfilled every Boston kid’s dream of playing for the Bruins.

Eventually, Hayes started noticing people around his hometown sporting his and his brother’s jerseys.

“Grabbing lunch, people come up to you and say, ‘My kid wants to be the next Kevin and Jimmy Hayes,’” Hayes told ESPN. “Teachers that I know send us reports of kids drawing us on their papers, telling their class they just want to be like my brother and I.”

An emotional night

The whole season has been emotional for Hayes, who used to FaceTime his brother on his way home from Flyers games, but he knew returning to Boston, where his loved ones live, was going to be extra meaningful.

After setting Beau down, Hayes skated onto the TD Garden ice for his normal morning skate. But when he returned that evening for warmups, he couldn’t escape the emotions. While his family did not attend the game, his friends showed up in full force, and he could see them surrounding him in the seats of the arena and on the ice, in both Flyers and Bruins jerseys.

“It was — yeah, it was emotional during the warmups, see a lot of familiar faces in the crowd and people that know my family and my brother and play for this organization,” Hayes said. “I mean, it was a lot of fun coming back here and playing in front of your family and friends. It’s your hometown. You grew up cheering for and watching these guys. And, yeah, it meant a lot.”

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. A few minutes before puck drop, Hayes skated out to the blue line as one of the starters and listened to the national anthem ring out through an arena that holds so many memories for him and his family.

As the final notes faded, the rest of the players skated toward their benches, but Hayes stood there alone in silence, taking in the moment and composing himself. Then he pushed it all away and, as he has done all season, went out and played for his late brother.