Jimmy Hayes starting to feel at home as a Bruin
WILMINGTON — The moment it happened, the relief was evident. Jimmy Hayes went down to a knee, pumped his arm, and jumped up to be surrounded by his linemates.
His first three games with the Bruins had been a mess. No points. A cumulative minus-5. A line that spent all of its time in the defensive zone. Then came Oct. 14 at Colorado.
It was his first goal as a Bruin, then he got his first assist, and then two more assists. He had 4 points in a breakout night, one that left him somewhat breathless, and not just from playing at altitude.
“It was nice to finally get that one,” Hayes recalled Wednesday. “It was Game 3 or 4, but it felt like it was Game 50 that I hadn’t scored in.”
It’s a feeling that comes to all players with new teams, the desire to impress their bosses, their coaches, their new fan base. But for Hayes, it was doubly true. As a Boston native, he also needed to impress his friends and his family, the people he was now hearing from on a far more regular basis than he did while playing for the Florida Panthers.
As he put it, “You get it a lot because they’re watching every game ’cause it’s probably on every TV in the city. So I hear a lot more, especially from my buddies that are in New York and the Connecticut area. They’re watching a lot more games.”
But this is exactly what he wanted, stress and all.
The smile still splits his face whenever he talks about Boston, about playing where he always hoped to play. Florida was nice, sure. It was where his career got established. But Sunrise, Fla., where the Bruins play Friday night, is not Boston. The Panthers were not the Bruins, and never would be.
Hayes has played in a big hockey market, beginning his career in Chicago, but he played just 43 games over three years there. He was not a trade acquisition, with scoring and contributing expected in the same way. He was not home.
“I wasn’t trying to add any extra pressure to myself,” Hayes said. “I already knew it was going to be there for the start of the season, but I think I know the fans in Boston appreciate a guy that just shows up every night, so I’ve just got to continue to show up every night and be hard to play against.”
Speaking about all of his new players, Bruins coach Claude Julien said, “Our guys are starting to feel more comfortable with what’s going on out there. It makes a big difference. There’s less hesitation. There’s less second-guessing, and everybody seems to be more on the same page. That normally happens with time playing together.”
That includes Hayes.
“I like to try to play an offensive game,” Hayes said. “Just got to continue to have some confidence and be around the net. That’s where most of my success comes, is being around the net area. Early on I was around the net, but I was leaving a little too soon, so I think now I’m spending a little more time in that area and it’s paying off.”
It has been paying off in a tangible way, with Hayes recording a goal and two assists in a 6-0 win over Arizona Tuesday. He now has three goals and five assists in eight games, and is well on his way toward replicating (or bettering) his totals in his breakout 2014-15 season, when he had 19 goals and 16 assists in 72 games for Florida.
It is what he expects from himself. He is performing under the scrutiny that he once gave to the Boston athletes he watched as a kid.
“It’s exactly what I thought it would be, being a fan of Boston sports growing up,” Hayes said. “You know what you’re expecting from the outside, but being on the inside and playing for the Bruins, a team you dreamed of playing for, it’s awesome now that it’s reality.
“It’s a really cool feeling for me being in my hometown: wake up every day and go to work.”
. . .
There were no updates on any of the three Bruins who were banged up Tuesday night: Kevan Miller, Joonas Kemppainen, and David Pastrnak. None of the three were on the ice for the team’s optional practice at Ristuccia Arena Wednesday. All missed time in the third period of the win, with Miller’s injury the most notable, his back crashing into the boards after a second-period hook by Tobias Rieder. “They’re still being evaluated,” Julien said. “I don’t have an update on them right now. I think it’s probably still too early to give a diagnosis as far as how serious it is or non-serious it is.”