(Photo courtesy of Chicago Blackhawks)
Jimmy Hayes owes his early start in the world of hockey to his grandfather, "Crash" McNeil, who urged his parents to put the then-2-year-old Dorchester toddler out on the ice.
Twenty years later and nearly 1,000 miles from home, Hayes is still skating -- in the NHL. His family and former coaches say his sheer determination has landed Hayes on the Chicago Blackhawks, where he signed a three-year contract last year, after leaving Boston College.
“Jimmy has always been the kind of kid that was always going to do whatever he had to do to get to the next level,” said Scott Harlow, general manager of the Foxboro Sports Center and longtime family friend and coach of Hayes. “I’m not surprised at all by what he’s doing now because he’s always been that type of kid. With him, it’s just pure determination.”
Hayes’ parents signed him up for team hockey at age 5 in Charlestown. He played there until he was ten, then switched over to play for Dorchester. While playing for local town teams, he also was playing in a second league, for the St. Moritz Devils, and later switched to the South Shore Dynamos and Cape Cod Whalers. Hayes then played three years of high school hockey at the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham before leaving to play junior hockey.
Hayes credits his family for making sacrifices that allowed him to take his hockey career from one level to the next. Since he first learned to skate, he said, his family has been by his side with support and advice.
His younger brother, Kevin, plays for the BC Eagles and has also been drafted by the Blackhawks.
“My biggest influence would have to be my parents and family,” he explained. “My parents have dedicated a lot of time and commitment to get me where I am today. I have to give my sisters credit, as well, because some of their summer vacations would be going to Canada with me to watch me play in tournaments.”
His mother, Sheila Hayes, said she's most proud that her son retained his humility all along the way.
“He’s very humble and very grateful,” she said. “We always say,' Remember who you are and the type of person you are.' Jimmy has never forgotten that.”
Hayes’ junior hockey career started out in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He played for the U.S. under-18 team for a year and a half, then played in the USHL for the Lincoln Stars in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Playing junior hockey was a great experience for me,” he recounted. “It allowed me to move away from home and learn how to live and grow up a little on my own. The hockey was different. It was a step up from what I was used to in high school, and it allowed me to develop my game and figure out what type of hockey player I was going to be.”
While playing junior hockey, Hayes was recruited by some of the top colleges in hockey. After deciding between Boston University, the University of New Hampshire, Harvard University and Boston College, Hayes ultimately chose to become a Boston College Eagle.
“I chose BC because of the hockey history and success it has -- and ultimately, the education,” said Hayes. “I pictured myself succeeding the most in that environment. I wanted to be a part of that winning culture, and I knew with the style of play BC plays, I would be given a chance to get my hockey career to the next level.”
Hayes said his time at BC allowed him to find a style of play that propelled him to the NHL. Jerry York, head coach of the men’s hockey team at BC, said Hayes came onto the ice as a freshman with the size and build of a power forward, but a style that was more that of a skilled finesse player.
“I think as he developed here through his time with us, he looked at his assets and said, ‘Geez, I’m a big strong hockey player, and to reach my potential, I have to be more physical’,” York said of Hayes, who stands 6'6". “He had to be a player that drives to the net and scores goals in the net area -- a powerful-type role.”
York praised Hayes’ parents, Kevin and Sheila, for raising such an “outstanding young guy” off the ice, making it easy to coach him.
“He is a very team-oriented type of person,” said York. “In my world, that is the highest compliment I can give a player."
Hayes acknowledged that the transition to a professional career has not been easy, and that he's had to make changes to his game in order to succeed in the NHL. Originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hayes’ rights were traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. He played in 13 games with the Blackhawks before he was sent down to the Rockford IceHogs, the AHL affiliate of the Blackhawks, to develop his professional game. In 33 games, he had 7 goals and 16 assists. His performance led to his recall back up to the Blackhawks.
Hayes said he has tried to retain a sense of normalcy off the ice. On a quiet day off, he can be found sitting on his couch watching television or playing a rambunctious round of Xbox games with his buddies -- just another 22-year-old from Dorchester.
This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Daniella Iervolino, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel (firstname.lastname@example.org), as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.