Kevin Hayes would call himself a pretty outgoing guy, but his late brother, Jimmy, took friendliness and inclusivity to another level.
Since Jimmy died in late August, Kevin has had to fight through grief, injuries, and infection to get back onto the ice. Finally back in the lineup, the alternate captain pushes back his sorrow to draw on memories of his brother as he tries to lead the Flyers through one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
“Every day at the rink, on the ice, at the practice rink, I just try to emulate what he would do and try to treat everyone with respect,” Hayes said.
Now, Hayes is the Flyers’ Masterton Trophy nominee. The award, named after Bill Masterton, the only NHL player to die directly from on-ice injury, goes to a player that exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. It is awarded by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Fellow Flyer Oskar Lindblom, who beat cancer, was the last player to win the award.
“Kevin is an excellent choice and is deserving of this nomination,” said Chuck Fletcher, Flyers president of hockey operations and general manager. “To return from both the physical and emotional challenges he faced this season speaks volumes about his character as a person, but also his commitment to our club and to his teammates. Kevin not only fought through many issues during the year, he performed at a high level and was one of our best players each time he was in the lineup.”
Hayes’ struggles began before the season even started. He underwent hernia surgery at the end of the 2020-21 season. After recovery and rehab, he was getting ready for Flyers training camp when his family received tragic news.
Jimmy, 31, was found dead on Aug. 23, 2021, leaving behind his wife and two sons, as well as four siblings and his parents. He died with cocaine and fentanyl in his system, his wife and father said. Besides being his older brother, Jimmy also was Kevin’s best friend.
The bad news piled on from there. On Sept. 21, the Flyers announced Hayes had to undergo another surgery, keeping him away from the game he loves. Hayes never even considered taking a break from hockey despite all the adversity.
“I knew right from the start that it was going to be difficult playing this year, but it’s something my brother definitely wanted me to do,” Hayes said. “So, without a doubt, I was definitely going to play.”
Hayes attempted to return Nov. 13 and Dec. 1 before the Flyers found he had a blood infection. On Jan. 18, he had fluid drained from his adductor, and, finally, on March 5, he returned to the lineup.
Since then, Hayes’ game has steadily progressed, with 20 points in the 24 games since his return. In addition to leading with his play on the ice, Hayes also tried to lead in the locker room. He earned the alternate captain’s “A” after just one training camp with the team, but now he’s trying to make his brother proud while filling in the void left behind when the Flyers traded captain Claude Giroux to the Florida Panthers.
The Flyers’ organization, especially Hayes’ coaches and teammates, made his recovery and his grieving easier to survive. The support from them and the hockey community was “insane,” and Hayes said he wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
Hayes also has tried to use Jimmy’s inspiration to help him become a better person in the community. Along with his family, Hayes started the 11Fund, named after Jimmy’s jersey number, to help provide academic scholarships for kids in his hometown. The hockey community jumped to support it, with teams around the league donating the money on the board to it.
“It’s been difficult,” Hayes said. “It’s definitely had its ups and downs. But I’m definitely proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish this year. And I’ve definitely been thinking a lot about my brother.”