Hayes Honored by Masterton Nomination

Each year, the National Hockey League awards the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy to the player who best embodies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the game of hockey. Each chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) nominates one player from the NHL team for its chapter covers. The list of nominees, now 32 in all, then is put up for a single vote among the entire PHWA membership to determine a winner and two fellow “finalists.”

On April 25, the PHWA released its list of 32 nominees. The Philadelphia chapter has selected Flyers center Kevin Hayes as its nominee for the 2021-22 season. The last year has been extremely trying for Hayes, both on a personal and professional level.

On Aug. 21, 2021, Kevin’s older brother Jimmy, passed away at the age of 31. The former NHL player is survived by his wife Kristen, young sons Beau and Mac, parents Shelagh and Kevin Hayes Sr., and four siblings. Jimmy and brother Kevin were especially close, and Kevin considered him his best friend.

“It’s hard not to get emotional when I think about my brother. The way that I’ve coped with it is to think about all the fun times we had together, especially playing hockey. I just try my hardest to act like him and how he treats people. I’m pretty outgoing but my brother was probably more outgoing than I am. So, every day at the rink, on the ice, at the practice rink, I try to just emulate what he would do. Treat everyone with respect,” Hayes said.

In the meantime, Kevin himself experienced a hellish calendar year from an injury standpoint. During the 2020-21 pandemic-shortened season, he saw a sharp dip in his effectiveness on the ice as compared to his performance over the 2019-20 campaign. It turned out that Hayes had a core muscle tear.

He underwent surgery last May, but suffered a reinjury in September and missed the start of this season to undergo a second surgery. When he returned to the lineup, something was clearly still not right. Hayes learned that the surgical area had become infected and the infection spread throughout his groin. I have exited the lineup again in mid-January. Another procedure was necessary, this time to clean out the infection.

Finally, Hayes returned to the Flyers’ lineup again on March 5. Since that time he’s been a much healthier, and more effective, player. Over the first 24 games Hayes played upon his return from him, he led the entire team with 20 points (6g, 14a) and all Flyers forwards with an average 19:14 of ice time per game.

“It’s definitely been a bit of a whirlwind year for myself and my family. It’s been an up-and-down year, certainly, surgery-wise,” Hayes said.

“Just trying to stay really connected with my family. Try to check in on them every day. But playing hockey this year is something that I knew would be emotional. It definitely was. It’s had its ups and downs. But I’m definitely proud with what I’ve been able to accomplish this year and definitely thinking a lot about my brother.”

Over the course of his personal ordeal, Kevin has been able to rely on unwavering emotional support from the immediate and extended Hayes family, his Flyers teammates, his many other friends across the NHL, from the hockey community as a whole and from hockey fans across the world. Some of Hayes’ closest friends within the sport, including Keith Yandle (who has lived with Hayes this year and has a brother-like bond with him), Cam Atkinson and James van Riemsdyk.

In receiving a Masterton Trophy nomination, Hayes said there are many others who deserve credit for helping him to cope with all he’s been through.

“It’s an individual award but it’s definitely not possible without my family, my teammates, my coaches and this entire organization. Players around the league, the fans in Philly. It’s insane, the support I’ve received these months. I’m truly grateful to everyone that’s tried to reach out to me,” Hayes said.

The tricky part about the Masterton Trophy is that everyone who is nominated is, for his own unique reason, deserving of recognition. In Kevin Hayes’ case, his qualifications for the award get to the very essence of its existence: it’s his love of the game and the relationships he’s built from it that have gotten him through extreme levels of pain both of the emotional and physical varieties.

If Hayes wins the 2021-22 Masterton Trophy, he will become the fifth Flyer to receive the honor since its inception in 1967-78. Bobby Clarke (1971-72), Tim Kerr (1988-89), Ian Laperriere (2010-11) and current Flyers left winger Oscar Lindblom (2020-21) are past recipients.


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