Cam Atkinson became emotional when he replayed the goal and Kevin Hayes' celebration in his mind.
"I know how special that goal was for Kev," Atkinson said, sitting next to Hayes after the Flyers' 2-1 win Nov. 16 over the Flames. "I was just happy to be a part of it. I love this guy here."
That night, Hayes, in just his second game back after a second abdominal surgery in fewer than four months, scored a goal he'll never forget. It was dedicated to his late brother Jimmy Hayes, who died suddenly on Aug. 23 at the age of 31. As the puck went into the net, Hayes looked skyward and tapped his chest.
The goal was an uplifting moment for Hayes amid a time of heartbreak and constant adversity. It was truly a brief reprieve from it all as more adversity followed for the 30-year-old center. But by the end of the season and following another procedure, Hayes was leading the Flyers as the club went through major change and injuries.
Now, Hayes is a finalist for the 2021-22 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, an award that is given annually to the NHL player "who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey."
Hayes was announced as a finalist on Monday, along with the Canadiens' Carey Price and the Islanders' Zdeno Chara. The winner of the award, which was voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, will be unveiled during either the conference finals or Stanley Cup Final.
Oskar Lindblom won the Masterton Trophy last season, becoming the fourth Flyer to ever take home the honor. He joined Bob Clarke (1971-72), Tim Kerr (1988-89) and Ian Laperriere (2010-11) as the Flyers' recipients.
This season, after the pair of abdominal procedures, Hayes made his debut Nov. 13 but was forced out one game later. He returned Dec. 1 and played through pain until mid-January, when he came back out. Hayes underwent a third surgery Jan. 18. It was discovered that he had developed an infection in his groin area.
Despite the Flyers' season being lost, Hayes, following more rehab, returned March 5 and played the club's final 28 games. Over that stretch, he led the Flyers in scoring with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) while playing 19:25 minutes per game.
"It was difficult this year trying to come back and play and not really knowing why I wasn't getting better," Hayes said last month. "When you get three surgeries, you should start feeling better. That point was never really happening for me. I'd feel better for a couple of days and then right back to square one. Ultimately we figured out that I had an infection in my blood. Thankfully we figured that out and once that settled down, that's when I started feeling a lot better.
"It's been difficult, but playing hockey this year was something I knew was going to be emotional. It definitely was, it's had its ups and downs. But definitely proud of what I've been able to accomplish this year and definitely been thinking a lot about my brother when I do play."
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