The dream evolves in increments. As brothers, you go to the rink for fun in your childhood around Boston, a hockey hub. Then your interest grows along with your skills, and you play for a college in your hometown. Success follows you, and soon, so do whispers and scouts. Soon, what felt like a fantasy when you were kids seems to be nudging upon the cusp of reality.
“When does it set in?” says Jimmy Hayes
. “The draft. The NHL draft day.”
“Yeah,” says Kevin Hayes
. “That’s when it hits you, that somebody wants you, that somebody believes in your ability.”
Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.
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For the Hayes brothers, the 2010 NHL Entry Draft was a special occasion. Kevin was selected in the first round, and 24th overall, by the Blackhawks. Great news. But wait, there’s more. The Blackhawks promptly swung a deal to acquire Jimmy, three years his elder, who had been picked by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008.
“I was sitting in the Staples Center in Los Angeles,” recalls Kevin. “They make this announcement.”
“No idea it was going to happen,” says Jimmy. “I was shocked.”
Now, on a sultry July morning in Chicago, the Brothers Hayes are together again. It’s the Blackhawks’ prospect camp, not to be confused with summer camp. This is no day at the beach. Coaches are watching every move, as is Stan Bowman, the vice president/general manager. Is that his father, Scotty, the living legend, over there? Might be.
“Oh, this matters,” says Jimmy. “This is where it all begins, in a way. All those people looking at you, this matters.”
So do the Brothers Hayes. A year ago, Stan Bowman projected them as future Blackhawks. A year later, he still feels strongly both ways because nothing has changed, except their bodies. If you’re old enough, you remember the NHL for its preponderance of crafty gnats who could skate circles around squares. There is still a place for players of that ilk in the league, but when these prospects board their bus for a five-star Loop hotel, they could pass for football team. With blades on, they tower. But they all are fleet and lean. Ever seen a fat hockey player? Size and sinew extends to modern goalies too.
Jimmy, 22 and 235 pounds, noticed that in his cameo with the Rockford IceHogs. He opted to forgo his senior season at Boston College, where he starred for the NCAA champion Eagles, signed a three-year entry-level contract, and played seven games with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate last spring. He didn’t score, but the stint was far from pointless. He bonded with a former BC teammate, Ben Smith
, who would graduate to the Blackhawks and enjoy a productive April. Hayes absorbed it all, and his debut as a pro constituted another step. At every level he noticed the pace is quicker and the netminders better. But, if his pal Smith was making it happen, especially during the pressurized playoff against Vancouver, why not him?
“Jimmy showed a lot of progress,” says Stan Bowman. “He had some chances in Rockford, and the puck just didn’t go in, but we see him as a power forward at right wing with a tremendous upside.”
I’ll miss not having Jimmy around. But I was excited for him when he signed with the Blackhawks. We have our arguments, like all brothers, but 30 seconds later, we’re best buddies again. - Kevin Hayes
Kevin, whom Bowman lists high on the organization’s depth chart at center, will return to school, where his role shall expand, what with departures from the Boston College roster. Jimmy, for one, will be gone, and that will be different. The Hayes brothers are tight. They’re rooming together in Chicago, they caught a White Sox game the other night, just as they went to Fenway Park a few weeks ago, not long after they attended Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. Bruins 8, Canucks 1.
“I’ll miss not having Jimmy around,” says Kevin. “But I was excited for him when he signed with the Blackhawks. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to do, and now, hopefully, he’s on his way. Nothing’s changed, except we aren't Bruins’ fans anymore. We have our arguments, like all brothers, but 30 seconds later, we’re best buddies again. And we call home all the time. Our dad, Kevin, wants to know what’s going on. He’s pumped. But when I’m home, I’m no big deal. I still have to take out the garbage.”
Bowman sees Kevin as a gifted playmaker, with exceptional hands and instincts, along with a knack for scoring. Kevin tore his left posterior cruciate ligament and missed more than a month of his freshman year, but the injury did not stunt his growth. At 19, he is 6-3, 205 pounds, and counting.
“We got our size from our mother Shelagh’s side,” says Jimmy. “Her dad was a hockey player. Our folks made lots of sacrifices for us. We appreciate that. Our three sisters too. Whenever we played in Canada, which was often, they came along.”
If Jimmy and Kevin Hayes
become Blackhawks, they will join a long line of brothers to have played in Chicago. In fact, according to the NHL, the Blackhawks boast the longest line in the league with 22 previous sibling acts. Not all the brothers played with each other for a spell, such as Bobby and Dennis Hull. Phil and Tony Esposito were Blackhawks, but not simultaneously. Not all brothers were only two in number, either. Four Sutters—Brent, Darryl, Duane and Rich—wore the jersey. And way back when, coach Paul Thompson created a family affair by putting three Bentleys on the same line. On Jan. 3, 1943, Reg tallied his only NHL goal with assists from Max and Doug. Bentley, from Bentley and Bentley. That was never done before, and has not been done since.
“We push each other,” says Jimmy. “To make it in the NHL would be great for either of us. If we both wind up with the Blackhawks, that would be amazing. We’ve talked about doing something big for our parents after all they’ve done for us. One of these days.”
Seats on the glass at the United Center to watch the Brothers Hayes play for the Blackhawks sounds like a plan.