Life-changing injury, nights in the hospital made Kevin Hayes a fit for Philly

Life-changing injury, nights in the hospital made Kevin Hayes a fit for Philly

Kevin Hayes remembers the days and nights in the hospital.

Those were dark doses of reality.

Life-altering times.

He didn’t have them when he arrived at Boston College in 2010. Hayes, 18 years old then, was just taken in the first round of the NHL entry draft by the Blackhawks and was joining his older brother Jimmy Hayes with the Eagles.

Boston College is about a 15-minute drive from the Noble and Greenough School, where Hayes was a force at the prep level. As B.C. recruited his brother, it built a seamless connection with Hayes, who was a growing center with natural ability.

“I went to that school as a first-round draft pick, thought I was super cool. It turned quickly,” Hayes said last month in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I had a very average first year, very average second year and realized that it was going to take a lot more work.”

More work than he ever imagined.

It would take the feeling of nearly losing it all.

(Chris Szagola/AP Images)

Following his “very average” freshman and sophomore seasons, Hayes was playing a home game against UMass Lowell on Feb. 26, 2013. During the second period, he took a knee to his left leg. Hayes was in the hospital by the end of the night.

“It was compartment syndrome and I popped all my blood vessels,” he said.

His junior season was over, his hockey career suddenly up in the air.

“There was some question of whether he would ever play hockey again,” Boston College head coach Jerry York said during a July phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. “It was a major surgery to his quad muscle in his left thigh — it just kind of blew up on him.”

Hayes spent multiple weeks in the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries.

An unexpected nightmare put his whole future in jeopardy.

To this day, he is thankful for the night of Feb. 26, 2013, and that hospital bed.

It was probably the worst best thing that's ever happened to me in my life. It definitely changed me as a human being. Everyone says the words, 'Don't take things for granted' — it's pretty easy to say, but you don't really realize anything until things that matter to you get taken away. That was the case for probably about four, five months my junior year. I decided since then, I was going to change the way I live my life — be a better teammate, be a better friend, be a better son, be a better brother, be a better person. It was probably the worst two months of my life but in the long run, it was probably the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I'm a true believer in you need your own little community to get through life and I had a great one — family, friends, coaches, Coach York, couple of roommates, couple of buddies from home, my brother Jimmy. It's crazy, you sit in a hospital bed for 23 days and you don't realize how many people come and visit you, and you don't realize what you almost could have lost.

(Chris Szagola/AP Images)

Who knows if Hayes would ever have found his way to the Flyers this summer if it were not for that injury at Boston College.

“In retrospect, it was probably the best thing that could happen to him in his career because he was probably on the line to sign after his junior year,” York said. “That kind of put everything in slow motion — it was the catalyst to send him back to B.C. for his fourth year. Then he just blossoms and he really became a player.”

Hayes was back for his senior year.

"I didn't have a choice,” he said.

Good thing he didn’t.

A determined Hayes alongside a diminutive Johnny Gaudreau made up college hockey’s most prolific duo in a special 2013-14 season. Gaudreau, a junior, led the nation in scoring with 80 points (36 goals, 44 assists) through 40 games, while Hayes was second with 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists) in 40 games.

The two were a combined plus-76.

“I got to play with Johnny and we kind of took off from there,” Hayes said. “I don't think I would be where I am today if that injury didn't happen.

“I was thankful that it happened in the weirdest way possible.”

The Eagles went 28-8-4 but fell short in the Frozen Four semifinal at the Wells Fargo Center, losing to Shayne Gostisbehere and eventual national champion Union College.

“Johnny was just hitting his stride going into his junior year,” York said. “Johnny had a chance to leave after his sophomore year, so he decided to stay through his junior year and with Kevin his senior year, boy, they were dynamic together. I always would like to see them at some point in their professional careers get back together, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen.”

You never know.

"Terrific players for B.C., but together, they were a package that was so hard to handle for anybody,” York said. “They just continued to get better. John has gone on to become a legitimate NHL All-Star and I think Kevin's on his way to that level. They were fun to coach — on and off the ice, I enjoyed both young guys."

(Chris Szagola/AP Images)

Little was York aware that he was actually getting to know two of his future players when he had a home visit with the Hayes family as Boston College was recruiting Jimmy Hayes.

“Kevin must've been in seventh or eighth grade, maybe even a little younger than that,” York said. “He was just kind of hanging around the house and chatting with us. I had no idea he was going to turn out to be this type of player.”

As Jimmy committed to the Eagles, York and his staff kept an eye on Kevin, the younger brother by two and a half years.

“It was obvious to any knowledgeable hockey person that he had size, he could skate, good with the puck,” York said. “What impressed me the most was just his instincts of the game — when to pass, how to get open. Just a natural feeling for the game of hockey. A lot of us call it hockey sense or hockey IQ, but he had that. He had the skating and the size to go with it. We actively recruited him after watching him play."

York, college hockey’s all-time winningest coach with over 1,000 victories, molded Hayes through an environment at Boston College that emphasized qualities greater than the sport.

“When you go to that school, Jerry York wants to win games, but he cares more about graduating and leaving that way as a professional person, instead of a professional athlete,” Hayes said. “He taught me a lot — whether it was my family teaching me things or Coach York, it's stuff that has stuck with me to this day. 

“How to treat people, how to act the right way in front of teammates, in front of coaches, in front of fans. That school was the best four years of my life and I go back there to this day."

(Matt Rourke/AP Images)

In the summer following his huge senior year, Hayes signed with the Rangers as a free agent. He played his first four NHL seasons in New York under Alain Vigneault and developed into a 200-foot player with untapped offensive potential.

When Chuck Fletcher decided to pursue Hayes as the Flyers’ big acquisition this summer, the general manager did his homework. Adding Hayes would mark a major investment for the franchise in Fletcher’s first offseason as GM. He made sure the decision was calculated and thorough. In an effort to expedite the Flyers’ process to contention (and brighten the future), Fletcher traded for Hayes’ contractual rights during June before signing the 6-foot-5 center later that month.

The deal: A headline-grabbing seven years, $50 million.

A part of Fletcher’s research was contacting York.

One of the key things I know, when Chuck Fletcher talked to me, he went back through history — because that's a big commitment for the Flyers. They were convinced that Kevin had the character and the drive to really become a key player in their organization. I fully backed Chuck in his rationale to sign Kevin.

I've known Chuck for a long time. Two of his children now are at Boston College, so he's got a good connection to us. He's a knowledgeable hockey person. When I talked to him, I was 100 percent with Kevin. I think he's a remarkable young man, great teammate, good character — he's a consummate pro when I look at him.

Fletcher and the Flyers liked a lot about Hayes — from his age to his do-it-all game and tough-to-play-against makeup.

The GM’s vision for acquiring Hayes was validated with the help of York’s recommendation.

"I've known Jerry for over 30 years since he was coaching at Bowling Green in the 80s,” Fletcher said last month in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I knew Jerry knew Kevin as well as anybody, having recruited him to come play at Boston College, coached him for four years, helped develop him into the player that he's become.

"He was one of my first calls when we were doing our due diligence to find out about Kevin, the background with him, his family, how he was at school, how he was with his teammates. Certainly Jerry gave a very strong endorsement."

Hayes played 15:44 minutes per game in parts of five seasons with New York. He scored a career-high 25 goals in 2017-18 and a personal-best 55 points last season between time with the Rangers and Jets. With the Flyers, he’s primed for his biggest role yet. Many believe Hayes is only scratching the surface at 27.

"I think he can take another step,” York said. “He's a really good professional player now, but I think he gets to that elite level, I really do.

“His compete level is very good. Just his desire to become the very best Kevin Hayes he can be, it's right there. You're going to notice that when you see him more. He really wants to become the very best player he can be — he's got that drive.”

It was one of many reasons why the Flyers were drawn to the multifaceted Hayes.

“We feel he's still evolving, he's 27 years old, he's played only five years in the NHL,” Fletcher said. “He played all four years at Boston College, so he turned pro a little bit later. I still think every player can continue to evolve, particularly as you gain more experience in the league and learn the league and find out how your game translates. 

“The great thing about Kevin is we're not going to judge him just by his offensive production, but by how he can impact our penalty kill, how he can help us defensively through the middle of the ice and how he just gives us more depth. He's the right player for our team at this time."

(David Banks/USA Today Images)

Hayes is “ecstatic” to be with the Flyers. He can call Philadelphia home, finally with long-term security in his NHL career. He earned his contract and wants to make the most of it. As a Northeast guy, from growing up in Boston and playing in New York, Hayes understands a passionate market like Philly.

Along with the city, the chance to reunite with Vigneault was attractive.

So, too, were the talent and fit.

"I don't want to trash anything that's happened to me in the past in the NHL, but I think this will be the first year where every single night, I'm playing with elite players,” Hayes said at the beginning of training camp. “I've played with some good players in the past, but where my game is at right now personally, and playing with the guys I assume I'm going to be playing with, I think it's going to be an unbelievable year.

“I think the fans should be excited — I think they're excited, some of them might not be too excited — but I feel great, this is the best I've ever felt and probably the most in shape, most excited I've ever been in my hockey career."

And when Hayes ever feels the pressure, he can remember what he almost lost.

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Flyers call up prospect David Kase from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Flyers call up prospect David Kase from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley Phantoms

With recent injuries to Travis Konecny (concussion) and Philippe Myers (back spasms), the Flyers were headed out to Denver to open a three-game road trip with only one healthy extra body — their backup goalie.

That will no longer be the case as the Flyers called up David Kase from AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley on Wednesday morning. He will be available for tonight's game against the Avalanche (9:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN).

Kase, 22, is a smaller (5-10/168) but quick, hard-working winger who has six points (three goals, three assists) in 21 games with the Phantoms. The 2015 fifth-round pick is constantly active with his bursts of speed and quality skill.

It's unlikely he'll play tonight without any practice with the Flyers. However, he could appear in a game over the road trip to make his NHL debut. The Flyers visit the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and the Jets on Sunday (5 p.m. ET/NBCSP+).

The Flyers had the roster space and cap space for an extra forward. Oskar Lindblom missed Monday's skills practice for maintenance but practiced Tuesday. Joel Farabee also sat out Monday after getting his wisdom teeth taken out but practiced Tuesday and said he's good to go.

Kase could spell Chris Stewart or Mikhail Vorobyev for a game. If Kase comes in for Vorobyev, the Flyers will have to adjust at center.

The Flyers, who are 12-3-4 with 28 points since Nov. 1, tied for most in the NHL, have played eight rookies this season.

Here are the projected forward lines for tonight:

Claude Giroux-Morgan Frost-Tyler Pitlick
Oskar Lindblom-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee
James van Riemsdyk-Mikhail Vorobyev-Chris Stewart

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Chris Stewart, Kevin Hayes building bonds with Nolan Patrick through support

Chris Stewart, Kevin Hayes building bonds with Nolan Patrick through support

Chris Stewart is 32 years old and worked his butt off to return to the NHL after a yearlong hiatus in which he played 23 games for the EIHL’s Nottingham Panthers. 

He does not take wearing an NHL jersey for granted.

“It’s the National Hockey League, it’s a blessing to be here, it’s a privilege to be here,” Stewart said last week. “That year away definitely changed my perspective on life.”

In his 11th NHL season, he often finds himself in the shadows, when few are watching. During those unglamorous moments, Stewart has grown close to a 21-year-old who was picked second overall in the 2017 draft by the Flyers.

While a fierce competitor like Stewart would love to be playing, the byproduct of not suiting up every game is his support for Nolan Patrick through trying times. Patrick has battled a daily fight with a migraine disorder. As Stewart stays ready and vies for a spot in the Flyers’ lineup, Patrick joins him in pursuit of playing again.

Patrick has yet to play in 2019-20. He was diagnosed with the migraine disorder in September and last week called the recovery process “sh---y” and “pretty wavy.”

Stewart has played in nine of the Flyers’ first 30 games, serving mostly as a healthy scratch. Instead of wearing a scowl across his face, he is persistently positive — especially for Patrick.

“I’m not in the lineup right now and he’s hurt, so it’s oddly that we’re spending a lot of time together — working out together, skating together every morning,” Stewart said. “For me personally, I’m just trying to be positive for him. Toughest job in the league is being hurt and not playing. You get caught up trying to look at the big picture every night as opposed to just looking at the small picture — what do I’ve got to do today, what do I’ve got to do next. Then that building up over time, hopefully you start feeling better.”

Recently, Patrick has been skating more, getting in work with the Flyers’ healthy scratches, skills coach Angelo Ricci and the assistants.

I’m just trying to be a positive reinforcement in his life. You can tell, he wears a lot on his shoulders and he wants to play. He has his good days and his bad. Our worst day is someone’s best day. You look at the bigger aspects of life, it’s not that big of a deal. He’s coming along nicely. I noticed since he’s been back, he’s upbeat, his energy, you can see his glow starting to come back in his face, so it’s good.

- Stewart

(Charles LeClaire, USA Today Images/Zack Hill, Philadelphia Flyers)

When Stewart was scoring a career-high 64 points with the Avalanche in 2009-10, Patrick was only 11 years old.

The 2006 first-round pick of Colorado has played 661 games and scored 322 points (160 goals, 162 assists) between seven NHL teams.

Patrick is grateful to have a guy like that in his corner.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with him,” Patrick said last week. “He’s helped me stay positive, he always brings a good energy, so it’s nice to have him around.

“He’s helped me a lot through it. I can’t really thank my teammates enough.”

Stewart didn’t grind his way back to the NHL to be complacent with watching. He’s hungry to have an impact in games. However, he understands the concept of team.

It’s bigger than him.

“We’re all playing for the same goal, everybody wants to play,” Stewart said. “If you’re not playing, there’s part of a leadership role, accountability and things that you’ve got to buy into and take pride into. I’d give anything to be playing out there with my teammates but if I can’t, I’m going to do what I can to bring the energy in the room and be that guy for the boys.

“Internal competition is only healthy for the team. Everybody is good enough but you can only dress 12 guys. Whoever is in that night is going to give a hell of an effort and if you’re not, cheer them on.”

That mindset is part of why the Flyers were intrigued by the veteran winger this offseason, bringing Stewart into camp on a pro tryout and signing him Oct. 15.

“Stewie has been around the NHL a long time, he knows what it takes to play and stay at this level,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said last week. “His reputation, and rightfully so, is a great team guy. … I’m happy that Nolan feels the same way. Stewie is a good influence in a dressing room.”

And a great influence for Patrick. 

We talk all the time, when we’re on the road, we keep in contact, like to check in on him every couple days about the stuff that he’s going through.

Let him know that I’m here, just be a shoulder to lean on, to talk to, an open door and that’s how we’ve been.

- Stewart

(Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Images)

Alongside Stewart, Kevin Hayes was also one of the fresh faces in the Flyers’ locker room entering the 2019-20 season.

After signing a seven-year, $50 million contract in June, Hayes has settled in with his new team and surroundings, also becoming one of the Flyers’ alternate captains.

He has built a bond with Patrick away from the ice as the two live together.

“He’s a great kid, a young guy,” Hayes said last week. “I bought a place here that’s pretty big to live by myself and invited him in. He’s been great. He’s a professional, he handles himself the right way. He’s been traveling a lot with seeing some doctors and stuff, but we pretty much see each other every day.

“We’re pretty tight. It’s not easy being a new guy here on the team and living with him makes it a lot easier. I feel super comfortable now with where I’m at, but earlier in the season, it was a little different. We spend a lot of time together, he’s a great kid. We’ve had different type of upbringings but we’ve definitely become pretty close this year.”

Patrick played 73 games his rookie year and 72 last season. He expects to play in 2019-20 but there’s no set date for his return as this type of recovery process can be difficult to predict, specifically timeframe-wise.

While Patrick and the Flyers attempt to find what works for the third-year center, Hayes sees the process in which his teammate goes through on a day-to-day basis.

I’ve been lucky enough to kind of not have a serious injury in this league and I hope I don’t ever have to go through something like that. I’m sure it’s never fun to be away from the guys. The best part about playing on a sports team is going to battle with your teammates — that’s how you build friendships around here. 

I’m sure he’s doing everything in his power to get back. I mean, I’m witnessing it firsthand. I think the biggest thing for him is getting correct with his head and then going from there.

- Hayes

Just like Stewart, Hayes wants to be there for Patrick — on and off the ice.

“We’ve all had to deal with stuff in our lives before,” Hayes said. “You can tell when someone is up or down. He handles it on his own way. I’m a pretty outgoing person, I can kind of figure out when he wants to talk and when he wants to just go hang out and chill in his room. I don’t really push anything too much on him, he’s a great kid and it’s been a blast living with him.”

(AP Images/Philadelphia Flyers/USA Today Images)

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