Former Bruins winger and Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes, who was found dead in his Milton home Aug. 23, died with fentanyl and cocaine in his system, his wife and father revealed Sunday.
It’s the news some feared when the wildly popular pillar of the community died after celebrating his son’s second birthday with his wife, Kristen, and infant son on a perfect Sunday seven weeks ago.
Hayes’s sudden death made no sense in the moment. The 6-foot-5-inch, 31-year-old ex-athlete presented as a healthy, happy young man, blossoming into a full life of parenting, podcasting, and doing good deeds for others. Jimmy Hayes had a beautiful wife and two adorable boys. His parents, sisters, brothers, and cousins were all around him. He had it all.
And then he was gone; another promising young life cut short by the national scourge of opioids.
Most of those around him never saw it coming.
An autopsy was performed two days after he died, but the Hayes family did not learn of the cause of his death until Friday, when they were en route to New Jersey for a pregame tribute to Hayes at the Blackhawks-Devils game. That’s when Kristen Hayes got the toxicology report from the Massachusetts state medical examiner, who listed the cause of death as “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl and cocaine.”
“I was completely shocked,’’ said Kristen. “I was so certain that it had nothing to do with drugs. I really thought it was a heart attack or anything that wasn’t that [drugs] . . . It didn’t make any sense, so it was hard. I was hoping to get a different phone call when they called. I was hoping to get some clarity and I was shocked to hear that it was that . . . He never showed any signs of a struggle at home.’’
Hayes’s close friends also were surprised. A lot of them knew Hayes had developed a problem with pain pills during his hockey career. Some knew he’d recently gone through treatment for the problem, but Hayes’s wife and many of his friends were pretty sure that was behind him.
Kevin Hayes, Jimmy’s dad, was not as surprised as everyone else.
“I’m an addict myself,’’ said the 66-year-old father of five. “I’m sober a long, long time, but I know how powerful this stuff is. I was in shock when it happened, but then I started putting stuff together in my head . . . I know what addiction does. I know about addiction.
“About maybe 16 or 17 months ago, I saw a little change in Jimmy’s behavior and I went to him and I said, ‘I think there might be a problem here with pills.’ He had had an injury for a while and I think he started taking the painkillers and they get you.
“I said, ‘Jim, I think I see a problem here.’ And he’s 31 years old so I can’t tell him to go get help. So I said, ‘When you want help, I’ll be here for you, pal. Let me know.’
“He called me three weeks later and said, ‘Dad, I’m hooked on these pills. I got injured and I started taking them and I never got off.’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s get you some help.’ He went to a place up in Haverhill. So he gets help and everything was on the path to recovery, I thought. But this [expletive] is so powerful.’’
Hayes won an NCAA championship at Boston College and played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Bruins, and New Jersey Devils during his seven-year NHL career. He played with the Bruins from 2015-17 and retired after 2017-2018 season. He was one of five children of Kevin and Shelagh Hayes of Dorchester. Kevin Hayes Jr., Jimmy’s younger brother, is a star forward with the Philadelphia Flyers.
More than 8,000 mourners attended Hayes’s wake at Florian Hall in Dorchester Aug. 29. Hayes’s widow and younger brother, Kevin, delivered eulogies the next day at a funeral service at St. Ann’s Church on Neponset Avenue.
The outpouring from the community was no surprise to those who knew Jimmy Hayes. Ask anyone who ever knew him.
“He’s one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached,’’ said family friend Rob Griffin, a Boston commercial real estate executive who has been running local hockey programs for more than 20 years. “I’ve coached about 20 kids who made it to the NHL, but Jimmy had the biggest heart.’’
Ask anyone who played with him. Ask anyone who works for the Bruins (the B’s wore Hayes tribute patches on their helmets for their opener Saturday). Ask Boston College coach Jerry York. Ask the folks from Champions for Children’s Hospital Fund. They all share only wonderful memories of Jimmy Hayes.
Kristen Hayes composed a few thoughts before Sunday’s interview.
“He would never want to see me, and the boys, and our family hurting the way we are,’’ she wrote. “I know he would give anything to still be here with us today. I am heartbroken and devastated, but I will choose to remember my husband and the boys’ dad by all the joy and love he brought us, and I hope everyone else does, too.’’
Jimmy’s dad hopes that something good can come out of the unspeakable loss.
“I don’t want him to be stigmatized like as a [expletive] junkie,’’ said Kevin Hayes. “You know what I mean? Because he wasn’t. Jimmy helped everyone. Some of the stories I’ve been hearing. He never said no. [Former Bruin] Torey Krug told me they used to go to Children’s Hospital. Jimmy’d fall in love with a kid, then go back a week later. And a week later. He was just a wonderful kid, but this addiction [expletive] is just so powerful. If I had a formula that could tell people.
“I hope getting Jimmy’s story out there can save someone’s life. If this can save someone from the pain, great. It’s just so sad. I pride myself on being pretty mentally strong. I’m a street guy. But there’s just no formula for this.
“You have a beautiful, All-American boy who made a terrible mistake and it cost him his life.’’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.