Jimmy and Kevin Hayes are national champions, NHL draftees and members of the U.S. men’s national team heading to Belarus for the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. And of course, they’re brothers.
While the Hayes name may not immediately resonate with the likes of other famous American hockey families – Suter, Chelios, Johnson and others – both Jimmy and Kevin Hayes descend from a hockey-rich lineage.
At first glance, you might expect the traditional hockey story highlighted by a father sharing his passion for hockey in the backyard rink with his boys.
But, that’s not the Hayes’ story.
Jimmy, 24, a member of the Florida Panthers, and Kevin, 21, a recent Boston College graduate, actually received their love of the game from their mom Shelagh’s side of the family.
“My dad [also named Kevin] has never actually put on a pair of skates. We began skating and playing hockey early on when our grandfather [Crash MacNeil] took us to the rink,” Jimmy explained.
Besides their grandfather’s critical influence, Shelagh’s family provided sway in the form of NHL great and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member, Keith Tkachuk, and Tom Fitzgerald, who played over 1,000 games in the NHL.
Both are cousins to Jimmy and Kevin, while serving as important guideposts along the brothers’ nascent careers.
“They were huge influences on my career, whether it was picking a college to attend or when I first broke into the league,” Jimmy explained further.
“They’ve been through all the ups and downs of being a hockey player and they used that experience to coach me on my journey.”
Kevin echoed a similar sentiment in describing his cousin’s guidance throughout his hockey upbringing.
“Tom talked to us a ton, always telling us to be consistent. He reminded us that coaches need to know what to expect from players every night.”
In his career, Tkachuk scored 538 goals and 1,065 points in 1,201 NHL games – winning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 1996-97, while leading the NHL with 52 goals that season.
Tkachuk represented the United States at various international tournaments, claiming gold at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Fitzgerald, now the Pittsburgh Penguins assistant general manager, represented the U.S. at two World Championships and a World Junior Championship.
Now, Jimmy and Kevin have the opportunity to continue their family’s legacy on the international stage – exuding pride in the process.
“Playing over in Belarus is a huge opportunity for me. It’s huge to represent the U.S. and a wonderful opportunity to continually show that I belong at the top level,” said Jimmy.
Originally a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, Jimmy was traded to the Florida Panthers, where he played his first full NHL season this year, posting 18 points in 53 games.
Kevin, who was a top-ten finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, delivered an incredible senior season at Boston College, helping to lead the Eagles to yet another Frozen Four appearance.
Playing alongside the eventual Hobey Baker winner, Johnny Gaudreau (also representing the U.S. in Belarus), Hayes posted 28 goals and 37 assists, for 65 points in just 40 games.
Kevin was a 2010 first-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks as well, taken 24th overall that year.
With no NHL experience to his credit, Kevin is anxious to turn heads early at the tournament.
“I want to prove to everyone that I can play the same way and do what I did all season,” Kevin explained. “USA Hockey is definitely up-and-coming, you could see it at the Olympics. I’m honored and extremely excited to put on the jersey and represent the country.”
Though it’s not simply a matter of representing the United States for the Hayes brothers – they carry with them a deep sense of Boston pride to Belarus.
Kevin and Shelagh raised the boys, and their three sisters – Genevieve, Eileen and Justin – in the proud Dorchester neighbourhood of the city. Both parents are original Bostonians as well.
“Boston is where my pride comes from. We’re very proud people, very blue-collared New Englanders. Dorchester is who we are and we’re proud to say we’re from that part of the city,” said Jimmy.
Jimmy also beamed with excitement when mentioning the local bars in Dorchester are likely to be filled with friends and family during every USA game.
Growing up, Kevin was in-tow for all of his older brother’s games and would eventually take over the “Hayes” name on all of Jimmy’s former teams, including the St. Moritz Devils and South Shore Kings.
“I idolized my brother growing up and followed him to every rink, every game, every tournament. Being three years younger, I followed in his footsteps and played on all the teams where he starred,” said Kevin.
Following their youth career in the Dorchester Youth Hockey League, both boys stayed within five miles of their childhood home to play collegiate hockey at Boston College.
Due to their three-year age gap, Jimmy and Kevin only played one season together at BC (2010-11, the only time in their lives they played for the same team), but both realized a lot of success during their time on Chestnut Hill.
Jimmy earned a national championship in 2009-10, while Kevin won his two seasons later.
Speaking of Jimmy and Kevin, legendary Boston College head coach, Jerry York shared praise for the brothers.
“It’s always a great honor when an Eagle dons the red, white and blue, whether they’re a current or former player,” said York.
“Boston College has always left a nice footprint on international play at the highest level and I’m glad that both Jimmy and Kevin will be able to enjoy that experience,” he added.
Knowing the taste of success, both Jimmy and Kevin are adamant about earning back-to-back medals for the United States at the World Championships for the first time since 1950.
“We have the choice to go to the tournament. So if you’re going to say yes, you better go and win, represent your country and your family,” said Jimmy.
“Hockey in the U.S. is making a major comeback. We want to keep USA Hockey on the map, make sure people know that hockey in this country hasn’t reached its peak yet and that we want to take over the sport,” he added.
To that end Kevin added, “We’re hardworking kids, who love to play the game, do what’s best for the team and enjoy playing together.”