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Off the Post: Kevin Hayes makes emotional return

Philadelphia Flyers centerman Kevin Hayes’ return to the ice carried a little extra meaning in the Nov. 13 matchup against the Dallas Stars. Entering the lineup for the first time since receiving abdominal surgery in early September, it was also Hayes’ first time playing following the death of his widely beloved brother, NHL alum Jimmy Hayes. 

A Dorchester native, Boston College star and former Boston Bruin, Jimmy Hayes was adored by all in and outside of his community, and the news of his death deeply rocked the hockey world. At 31 years old, Jimmy was found dead at his family home in late August — and it was later revealed fentanyl and cocaine were involved in the tragedy. 

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

Leaving behind his wife, Kristen, and two young sons, Beau and Mac, Jimmy’s passing ignited the hockey community to step up in a powerful way. That’s the most beautiful part about this sport and this league — it’s truly a family when it comes down to it. 

The outpour of condolences, support and love that flooded social media, broadcast booths and the streets of Dorchester showed the impact Jimmy had during his time on earth and the legacy he now leaves behind.

It felt as though the hockey world collectively paused — the trades, free agency and prospects of the starting season suddenly carried no weight. We were all reminded of life outside the NHL bubble and got the chance to wholly appreciate all aspects of Jimmy’s character, beyond his killer slapshot. 

Accordingly, Kevin Hayes’ return to the Philly roster entailed a lot of emotion coming on the heels of the announcement of The 11 Fund. The Hayes family launched The 11 Fund foundation to provide financial support to underprivileged students at Saint John Paul School — the Hayes brothers’ alma mater. 

The response to the fund has been overwhelming. NHL players from teams all around the league put money on the board immediately following the Hayes family’s announcement. Over $15,000 was raised in just one night, and the number continues to increase. 

Hockey is a gritty sport, and the NHL is a competitive league, but the humanity, heart and unity that shines through across team lines from both players and fans in moments like this is what the game is all about. Jimmy’s memory will be cherished by all, especially Kevin, whose hockey career has now taken on a new meaning.  

In last night’s game against the Calgary Flames, Hayes garnered his first goal of the 2021-22 campaign. Collecting the puck from a blocked shot, a gloveside Hayes dumped it into the back of the net and pointed up to the sky for Jimmy as the goal horn sounded. The Flyers went on to win the matchup 2-1. 

In his postgame interview, Hayes said he’ll remember the goal forever and will give the puck to Jimmy’s son Beau. Thanks to Kevin and the hockey community, Beau’s dad’s spirit will no doubt surround him as he grows up. 

Jimmy’s death still feels a bit unfathomable, but it’s uplifting to see Hayes back on the ice carrying the legacy of his older brother. The NHL and its dedicated followers will continue to hold the Hayes family close to their hearts as they adjust to their tragic new normal.

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