Before the season was suspended on March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak, center Kevin Hayes was on pace to set a career high in goals and was a major reason the Flyers had become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Hayes said.
Hayes and his teammates are hopeful the season restarts and that they can continue the momentum built from winning nine of their last 10 games. He’s staying with his brother, Jimmy, a former NHL player, in Boston and riding an exercise bike daily to stay in shape. But, like his teammates, he has more spare time than he’d like.
“I’m already bored,” Hayes said in a recent phone interview. “It’s kind of crazy that we were doing so well and now we’re not playing. We were feeling good about ourselves. I don’t think anyone wanted the league stopped. At the beginning, we didn’t realize how serious it was and thought we would keep playing. Now we understand it’s a much bigger problem than just missing hockey games. The biggest thing is for everybody to just stay safe."
The Flyers had climbed to second place in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind Washington. They had the sixth-most points in the 31-team NHL and were dreaming about bringing home the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1975.
“Hopefully, we can play again this year because we’ve kind of put ourselves in a good position to have a serious run,” Hayes said.
Hayes, 27, brought all his gear to Boston but isn’t sure when or if he can use it. The NHL has recommended that players self-quarantine at home through March 27.
“Even gyms are closed, and they’re probably something you want to avoid at the moment” because of germs, he said.
Hayes, a 6-foot-5, 216-pound veteran with a knack for keeping the puck away from opponents, has had an eventful first season with the Flyers. He has 23 goals -- two shy of equaling his career high with 13 regular-season games left -- and he has become a leader in the clubhouse with his keep-it-light approach. The Boston-area native has also become a favorite because of his engaging personality and his fondness for giving teammates colorful nicknames.
A Yards Brewing Company representative took notice and released a beer in his honor -- Big Hayes-y 13 -- a couple of weeks ago. The beer has been selling briskly in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware.
When it released the New England-style hazy beer, Yards, located on Spring Garden Street, warned that it was not to be consumed by penguins (i.e. Pittsburgh) or rangers (i.e. New York).
“At the time, I’d like to think I was playing pretty good," Hayes said. “I think I scored a couple of shorthanded goals in a row, and he texted me and sent me a picture of the can and we went from there.”
He described the beer as tasting like a “heavier Blue Moon. It’s a double IPA, citrus flavored, 8.7 percent alcohol. It’s definitely a heavy beer. I don’t think you’re going to be doing any pregames with it,” he said. “It’s more of a beer you drink over dinner or watching an event. A couple of them might catch up to you kind of quickly.”
Hayes said he was honored that Yards approached him.
“It’s really cool. I’ve never really had anything named after me,” he said. “… It’s just a good connection to the fans. It’s my first year here and I’m trying hard to play the right way and kind of connect as much as I can to the fans, whether it’s through the team or interviews, or doing some funny stuff with the Flyers."
The beer has created a “ton of buzz on social media," Hayes said. "Everyone is always tweeting at me or Instagramming them drinking the beer. It’s all been positive. And the [accompanying brand] shirts came out around the same time, and when Jake [Voracek] came out wearing one after a game in the media, they sold out of those and redid another batch at Yards.”
Hayes, who signed a seven-year, $50 million contract with the Flyers last June, called the beer experience a “fun process" and a good way to feel closer to the fans.