Jimmy Hayes lived the fantasy of every local kid who picked up a hockey stick after school.
He went from the streets of Dorchester to playing for the Boston Bruins, during a career that included an NCAA championship at Boston College, silver medals with Team USA, and seven years in the NHL.
His friends weren’t recalling his on-ice impact Monday.
“Jimmy was a guy who had you laughing before he delivered the punch line,” said Pete Albietz, the New Jersey Devils’ vice president of communications and team operations.
Hayes died unexpectedly Monday morning, stunning the hockey community in and around Boston. He was 31.
Law enforcement and first responders pronounced him dead at his Milton home, a law enforcement official said. His death is not considered suspicious. The cause of death was not immediately available.
He leaves behind a wife, Kristen, and two sons: Beau, 2, and Mac, three months. On Sunday they celebrated Beau’s second birthday. Mac was born on May 5.
Instagram posts by Kristen Hayes around midnight Sunday showed the family of four at an arcade playing games earlier that evening. Hayes was sporting a Patriots cap and a smile.
Tributes poured in for Hayes, a 6-foot-5-inch, 215-pound right winger who played 334 games in the NHL for four teams. The Bruins, for which he wore jersey No. 11 from 2015-17, and Boston College used the word “heartbroken” in their statements. The NHL Players’ Association said it was “deeply saddened” by the news.
“I’ve been in a state of shock all day,” said Bob Murray, the Dover-based player agent for Jimmy and his brother, Philadelphia Flyers center Kevin Hayes. “We are devastated by the loss of Jimmy. I can’t emphasize enough how great a kid he was.
“He was the nicest young man I dealt with,” Murray said, describing him as “bubbly and friendly,” with an ever-present smile. “He was nice to everybody. A great friend. Just universally loved.”
Hayes also leaves four siblings, Genevieve, Eileen, Justine, and Kevin; and parents Shelagh and Kevin Sr. of Dorchester. The extended family, which has roots in Charlestown and includes NHL players named Tkachuk and Fitzgerald, is well-known in Boston hockey circles.
“They’re a human force,” said Boston College Hockey team chaplain Tony Penna. “Everything they do, they gobble it up with tenacity and purpose and intention.”
The Hayes siblings are first cousins of NHL stars Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames) and Brady Tkachuk (Ottawa Senators), whose father is former NHL star Keith Tkachuk. They are also first cousins of Ryan and Casey Fitzgerald, who play for the AHL affiliates of the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres, respectively. Their father is New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald.
“Growing up in such a tight-knit hockey family, I’m sure Jimmy wanted to do exactly what he saw Keith and I doing as he was growing up,“ Tom Fitzgerald said. “He not only did that, he became a true role model and inspiration for all the younger Fitzgerald and Tkachuk cousins. They all wanted to be just like Jimmy Hayes! He’s the reason my two boys chose BC.
“Jimmy had such an infectious personality that he lit up the room every time he entered. Most importantly, watching him grow into the person, husband and father he had become makes all of us smile proudly. Jimmy will always be known as the best teammate anyone could ever have.
“He will be greatly missed by our entire family.”
“Wish I had the chance to tell Jimmy how much Brady and I looked up to him and Kevin throughout all the years,” Matthew Tkachuk posted on Twitter. “I know that Beau and Mac will grow up with the same larger than life and loving personality that he had!”
Entering his 49th season as a college hockey coach, BC’s Jerry York has tutored hundreds of players. He said that shortly after Jimmy Hayes arrived on campus in 2008, from Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, he became one of his favorite people to coach.
“Of all the kids I’ve coached, certainly in my top five as far as being enjoyable to coach, to hang in the locker room with,” York said. “His off-ice contributions to our team, I marveled at so many different times.
“Great city kid, you know? Always had that city grind to him, that city tenacity.”
Penna said Hayes blossomed once younger brother Kevin followed him to The Heights in 2010, following BC’s national championship victory over Wisconsin the previous spring. As the oldest of his generation of hockey-playing cousins, Hayes want to set the tone.
“It was so important for Jimmy to be a good role model,” said Penna, who officiated Jimmy and Kristen Hayes’s July 2018 wedding in Cape Cod.“When Kevin walked into the locker room, he raised his game.”
Hayes was drafted 60th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, after two years playing for the US National Team Development program and Lincoln Stars of the US Hockey League. He also won silver medals with Team USA in the 2007 Under-18 World Junior Championship and the 2009 U-20s, and with his brother, played for the Americans at the 2014 World Championships.
Hayes broke into the NHL with Chicago, debuting Dec. 30, 2011 against the Detroit Red Wings. His first goal came Jan. 2, against the Edmonton Oilers.
He spent parts of his first three pro seasons in the AHL before the Blackhawks traded him to the Florida Panthers in 2013. In 2014-15 he produced a career-best year — 19 goals and 35 points in 72 games — and caught the Bruins’ eye. His hometown club dealt Reilly Smith and the contract of Marc Savard to the Panthers for Hayes.
“Jimmy was the best,” said East Longmeadow-raised Panthers winger Frank Vatrano, a Bruins rookie at the time. “He could light up a room. He made everyone laugh. He was the first guy who took me under his wing, made sure I was comfortable, made sure I was invited to dinner with all the guys.”
The Bruins signed Hayes to a three-year, $6.9 million contract in July 2015. They bought out his contract two summers later. In total, he had 15 goals and 33 points in 133 games for Boston. That included the only hat trick of his career, against the Senators Dec. 29, 2015.
“It was a dream come true,” he beamed after that game.
Hayes finished his career with the Devils (2017-18) and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes Barre/Scranton (2018-19). In total, he scored 54 goals and 109 points in the NHL.
Hayes was enjoying family life and determining his post-hockey path. Since August 2020, he had co-hosted a podcast with fellow former NHLers Shane O’Brien and Scottie Upshall called “Missin Curfew.” Hayes went by the nickname “Broadway.” Their last live show was Aug. 5.
York said Hayes, who turned pro as a junior, was finishing an arts and sciences degree. He had visited the BC hockey team several times. York believes Hayes would have made an excellent coach. He is not alone in that sentiment.
“He had that kind of personality, and he cared about people,” said Brian Day, his coach at Noble and Greenough. “Whatever it was that he did, he would have been all-in. And he would have made people feel really good.”