VOORHEES, N.J. – There are moments of grief and joy in all our lives and if we’re fortunate, sometimes there is an intersection of the two emotions.
Flyers center Kevin Hayes knows the experience. This past summer, his best friend in life, his brother Jimmy, left this world tragically at the age of 31. The cause of death is still unknown.
But fate offered Kevin a way to cope with this life-changing loss in the form of the arrival of another close friend, Keith Yandle, who signed as a free-agent defenseman with Philadelphia during the offseason.
The two players had bonded back in the 2015-16 season when they were teammates on the New York Rangers, who were directed by current Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault.
New to Philly, Yandle was in the process of looking for a good place to live but he didn’t need to search far – Hayes offered to put him up at his house and, as it turns out, that was a fortuitous gesture.
Jimmy Hayes, also a former National Hockey League player who competed for several teams including his hometown Boston Bruins and the New Jersey Devils, passed away on Aug. 23. An autopsy was performed but results are still pending.
Kevin and his brother were more than close. They grew up together on the streets of Boston and eventually spent a year as teammates on the 2010-11 Boston College team.
Jimmy’s death hit Kevin like a thunderbolt. Less than a month later, Kevin had to go in for a follow-up abdominal surgery this past Monday. Now he can’t even get a couple hours of mental/emotional relief playing ice hockey.
“It’s been a tough month,’’ Hayes said during a press briefing at the Flyers Training Center on Friday. “It’s never fun to lose someone who’s your best friend, someone you’ve looked up to your entire life. My brother was a special person, he touched a lot of lives. He really enjoyed life. He really enjoyed helping others. I’m upset he’s gone, it happened way too fast. I’ll never forget him.’’
Kevin, 29, said having someone like Yandle in his life has really made a difference as far as dealing with his darkest moments.
“Things happen for a reason,’’ Hayes said. “I was pretty negative for a bit in the last month and then you realize what it turned out to be and who is here with me. Living with Keith, he’s probably my best friend in this whole entire world after my brother. The fact that he’s living with me is special. I have some bad days and he is just an awesome dude. He just makes it a lot easier. It is cool how things played out and I think it will make things a lot easier.’’
Yandle, whose family is staying behind in Florida (where he last played), does what he can to lift his friend’s spirits.
“I used to ref Kevin’s games when he was a kid and our friendship really took off when I got to New York,’’ Yandle said. “We’ve been best of friends since. It’s a good thing that I’m able to be here for him. He’s a guy who’s here for me, too. We’re both guys who don’t like to be alone. We’re able to hang out everyday. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. We watch a lot of TV, it’s a lot of laughs.’’
In addition to Yandle, Hayes received support from all over the hockey world.
“The hockey world is an impressive community,’’ Hayes said. “It’s crazy the amount of people who have reached out to myself, my family. The amount of people who showed up to his services was incredible. There were people close to my brother in the hockey world that I didn’t even know about who reached out with flowers to my family.
“There are people I would like to thank. It’s incredible, the support, and it just shows that when we’re on the ice, it’s truly a battle and we want to win every game but the hockey community is a really special community that goes much further than playing each other on the ice. I was totally taken aback with the support I received.’’
Hayes won’t be playing until the start of November at the earliest. No doubt he will be thinking about Jimmy when that moment arrives.
“It’s going to be weird stepping on the ice for the first time knowing that my brother is not there,’’ he said. “He was my biggest supporter. If I had a bad game, it was AV’s (Vigneault’s) fault, not mine. If I wasn’t playing a lot of minutes, he wanted to talk to AV and (general manager) Chuck (Fletcher). It’s something I’ll miss. It’s something I think will really push me this year. When I’m having bad days or bad games, not playing up to how the fans want me to, I’ll probably just think of my brother and hopefully that will push me through. It’s going to be weird for sure.
“I don’t think my life will ever be the same honestly but it is really nice being in Philly with these guys, being around the team.’’
Vigneault said: “I love the fact that he (Hayes) has been around the team, been in all the video sessions, wants to be here to help, especially with the new guys.’’
Hayes sounds optimistic he can get back to playing again and stay in good health the remainder of the season. He said he dealt with the injury for about 70 percent of last season. After the first surgery, the rehab back in Boston went well. He was skating with some of the Bruins. Then about two weeks ago, something gave way near the injury site and it was back to surgeon Dr. William Meyers again.
“I came back on Monday, felt the best I had in two weeks, went for a breakaway and something happened and it all came apart,’’ Hayes said. “No one’s at fault, I don’t think it was avoidable, it was inevitable. It sucks. I had felt good all summer and now I’m out for a little bit of time. I just feel unlucky. It (new injury) is very similar. They went through the same scar to fix it and reattach what fell apart.’’
>Good news for Oskar
Vigneault disclosed Oskar Lindblom, who battled through Ewing’s sarcoma in 2020, went in for a scheduled check-up and the screening said “he’s cancer-free.’’