VOORHEES, N.J. — Cautiously and laboriously, Kevin Hayes walked through the door to head back downstairs at Flyers Training Center. He had just finished speaking to the media for 10 minutes.
Three days ago, he had abdominal surgery, his second procedure of its kind in fewer than four months. He still made his way upstairs to the press conference area Friday morning, a month and one day after the tragic death of his brother Jimmy Hayes.
The Flyers' 29-year-old center, hurting emotionally and recovering physically, wanted to publicly express his gratitude.
"I've obviously been dreading this conversation with you guys," Hayes said, "but there are some people that I would truly like to thank."
Hayes' brother was about two and a half years older than him. Both went to Boston College. Both made the NHL. Kevin Hayes admired Jimmy Hayes in every way.
"It's been a tough month," Hayes said. "Life is fragile, honestly. It's never fun to lose someone who's your best friend, someone you've looked up to and been paired with your whole entire life."
The hockey community has rallied around the Hayes family. It poured into the Dorchester section of Boston for Jimmy Hayes' memorial services at the end of August. It has sent its love in various ways.
"Like you guys have seen in tributes and podcasts and just so much going around the hockey world, my brother was a special person," Hayes said. "He touched a lot of lives, he really enjoyed life and really enjoyed helping others. It sucks that he's gone and it happened way too fast. I'll never forget him.
"The hockey world, it's an impressive community. It's been crazy the amount of people that have reached out to myself, my family. The amount of people that showed up to his services was incredible. Some people that were very close to my brother who I didn't even know, that are in the hockey world, reached out, sent flowers, sent stuff to my family."
Hayes wanted to say thank you.
The Flyers sent a team bus to the memorial services. Hayes said general manager Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault "have been tremendous through all of this" and that the support from his teammates at the services was "incredible to see."
Hayes has been reminded of how tight-knit the sport can be during trying times.
"It just shows when we're out on the ice, it is truly a battle and we want to win every game, but the hockey community, it's a really special community and it goes much further than playing against each other on the ice," he said. "I was totally taken aback with the support that I received and some of the people that still to this day check in.
"Brian Burke, who is with the Penguins right now (president of hockey operations), has basically reached out every single day to check how I'm doing. He unfortunately lost his son, so he's been helping me through a lot of stuff. Just seeing people like P.K. Subban, Patrick Maroon, Ryan McDonagh, [Kevin] Shattenkirk, [Claude Giroux] who was up there, [Justin Braun], Joel [Farabee], Keith Yandle, Chris Wagner. Just a lot of people. People that I didn't even know would reach out, guys like Sidney Crosby, [Gabriel] Landeskog, it's been incredible, the support."
Jimmy Hayes was married to his wife Kristen and had two young boys Beau and Mac. Hayes said he has gone home as much as possible to see them, his parents and three sisters. As much as Hayes loves Dorchester and wants to be home, returning to the Philadelphia area, being around his teammates and the game, has been therapeutic.
"Up until this [injury] happened, I was going home every Friday. But it's been really nice to be back," Hayes said. "My family is really well-known in Boston, especially where we live. My brother and I, it's weird to say, are role models in our community and our family's very well-known. My dad gives back a lot, my family gives back a lot to the community. So it was tough being there, it was awkward, no one really knew how to act. Couldn't go get coffee without someone coming up or awkwardly holding the door for me or wanting to buy me coffee. It just got kind of repetitive and no one really knows how to handle what happened, there's no playbook on how to handle death.
"It was really nice to get back here again with the team, things were going really well actually. I'd come to the rink, work out and skate, be with the guys, go to dinner with the guys and I felt amazing. And then I had this happen; it definitely makes it harder but I asked A.V. if I could kind of be around the team as much as I can, do my rehab when they're on the ice. So when they're finishing, I'm finishing. When they're in the gym, I can kind of be hanging out and stuff. It does make it a lot easier."
Vigneault was all for it.
"I love the fact that he's been in all the video sessions, he wants to be here to help, especially with the new guys that are coming in, whether it be young players or veteran players from other teams," Vigneault said Friday. "Kevin's been with me for a while, so he knows what I'm particular about and what I'm nonnegotiable about. He can share that with everyone and it makes for the adjustment and the adaptation that much easier."
The Flyers on Friday had their second day of training camp. Hayes is rehabbing his injury instead of taking part in the Flyers' on-ice preparation for the 2021-22 season. Hayes, who had his initial sports hernia surgery in late May, was skating and working out with the team prior to camp, feeling fully recovered and ready for camp as originally planned. On Monday, three days before the start of camp, the plan completely changed.
"I got this surgery in May, dealt with it for probably 70 percent of the season last year," Hayes said. "We kind of went through an awkward season last year where we were close to the playoffs, then we weren't, then we were close again, so it wasn't really the right time to get it fixed. I got it fixed, Dr. [William] Meyers, he did a great job. I did rehab here, went home, felt great, skated in Boston with a bunch of the guys on the Bruins, worked out, felt really good, I was skating, scrimmaging, bagging myself at the end of every skate, working out regularly and felt very back to normal.
"Then about two weeks ago, I felt something, just an everyday injury that hockey players deal with. I took a couple of days off, went on the ice, very short, a couple of days off. Did something on my own to kind of make it feel even better, went home to see my family, came back on Monday, felt amazing, it was the best I felt in two weeks. Went for a breakaway and something happened where it all kind of came apart.
"No one's at fault, honestly, I don't think it was avoidable. I think it was inevitable that it was going to happen from two or three weeks ago when something happened, I'm not sure exactly what happened. It sucks, it felt really good all summer and now I'm out for a little bit of time. I think it's just unlucky."
Hayes will miss six to eight weeks. He said the injury was "very similar" to the previous one.
"They went through the same scar to fix it and reattach what fell apart," Hayes said.
As Hayes is forced to watch training camp, he has the support of his teammates. Yandle, who signed a one-year deal with the Flyers during July, moved in with Hayes for this season. The 35-year-old Yandle, a fellow Boston native, said he has known Hayes and his dad well before they both became NHLers and teammates for parts of two seasons with the Rangers.
"He's one of those guys, you see him around the neighborhood, just a great guy, always taking care of you, he sees you, buys you lunch when you were a kid," Yandle said Friday about Hayes' father Kevin Sr. "A guy who always gave back to the community. I used to ref Kevin's games as a kid when he was a kid. Our friendship, it really took off when I got to New York. We've been best of friends since."
Hayes and Yandle like to keep things loose and love being around the rink. Yandle joked that neither of them like to be alone. Away from the ice, Hayes has appreciated Yandle being there.
"He's probably my best friend in this whole entire world after my brother," Hayes said. "And the fact that he's living with me, it's special. I have some bad days and he's an awesome dude, he really is, you guys will get to know him. He just makes it a lot easier."
Hayes is entering his third season with the Flyers. He knows it will be unlike any season he's ever played at any level.
He'll be playing for his brother.
"It's going to be weird stepping on the ice for the first time knowing that my brother's not there," Hayes said. "This is easy to say, I'm sure a lot of people say this, but he honestly was my biggest supporter. If I had a bad game, it was A.V.'s fault, not mine. If I wasn't playing a lot of minutes, he wanted to talk to A.V., he wanted to talk to Chuck. It's something that I'll miss and it's something that I think will really push me this year. When I'm having bad days or bad games or not playing up to how the fans want me to here, I'll probably just think of my brother and he'll hopefully push me through."