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For Both Hayes & Beleskey, Playing for B's is a Dream Come True

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — As Bruins General Manger Don Sweeney approached free agency exactly one week ago, he said that he was looking for players who were, first and foremost, excited to be Boston Bruins.

And after hearing from new acquisitions Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey, Sweeney has nothing to worry about in that regard.

Both players addressed the Boston media for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, and neither of them could emphasize enough how excited they are to be in Black and Gold in 2015-16.

“Boston is one of the best sports town in the world,” said Beleskey, who signed a five-year contract with the B’s on the opening day of the free agency period. “The way they play the game, their style of game, Original Six team… It’s been a very easy choice to come to Boston.”

For Hayes, becoming a Bruin is especially exciting, given that he grew up right down the street in Dorchester. He spent his childhood camped out in front of the TV watching the B’s; he spent his college years in Chestnut Hill, helping Boston College win a national title; and now, after beginning his professional career with Chicago and continuing it with Florida, he is finally coming home.

“This has been a dream come true for me, to come home to my hometown and my family,” Hayes said. “To have this opportunity to win another championship for this city is a dream come true.

“It’s been pretty crazy — just getting a lot of phone calls and texts, and a lot of congratulations, and it’s finally sinking in for me that I’m going to be wearing a Boston Bruins jersey every night.”

Hayes has already had plenty of experience playing in front of the TD Garden crowd. During his days as an Eagle, he won a couple of Beanpot titles there. In 2010 — though it didn’t happen in the city of Boston — he brought a national title to his home city, as BC emerged victorious in the Frozen Four.

Already, he has made plenty of memories in Boston, but doing it while wearing a Spoked-B on his chest bodes to be even more special — for both him and his family.

When asked if brother Kevin — a New York Ranger — is jealous that he gets to play for the hometown crowd, Hayes grinned and said, “We’ll say he’s jealous.” When asked to recollect his father’s reaction to the trade, Hayes laughed again.

“I called him and he said he already knew,” he said. “I don’t know how he knew when I just got a phone call 10 minutes before, but he’s ecstatic — he and my mom are on cloud nine right now.

“I have three sisters as well, and they all live in Boston, so it’s going to be great for my family.”

Beleskey is not quite as familiar with his new city, but he is every bit as excited to call TD Garden his home arena.

“I think I did a full tour of the city [on Monday],” he said with a smile. “I think me and my wife walked the entire city [on Monday], too. The reception I’ve gotten so far from the fans and just the city — it’s been fun.

“It’s the Boston Bruins. It’s an extremely attractive place to be. I looked at their team, and I talked with my agent and my family, and it’s always been a place I’ve liked. … Any team you go to, you’re going to have to earn what you get, so it was a great opportunity, great team, and I’m just happy to be here.”

Both Beleskey and Hayes describe themselves as power forwards, and both of them described the Bruins as the “Big Bad Bruins.” Both of them, therefore, believe they will have no problem fitting in with the Bruins’ style of play.

“I’m going to play my same game — be a power forward, get in on the forecheck and go to the net hard,” Beleskey said. “That’s what I’m going to do, and if [Head Coach Claude Julien] sees me [playing] wherever — it doesn’t really matter. I’m just going to do what he needs me to do, and he’ll put me where he thinks I belong.

“Where I fit in, that’s up to the coaching staff. They’re going to see where they want me, and I’m going to play the same game every shift, no matter what line I’m on. So that’s up to them, but we’ll see where I end up.”

When asked specifically about the play of Boston centers David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron, Beleskey raved. Though he hasn’t faced them all too often after six-plus seasons as a member of Western Conference powerhouse Anaheim, he has seen enough to know that they are excellent — and that he will be thrilled to suit up alongside them instead of against them.

“They’re obviously great playmakers,” Beleskey said. “You play against them, and you watch the way they play — they work hard in both ends, and that’s something I enjoy, having a guy who’s going to work hard at both ends of the ice. They can make great plays in the slot. Hopefully, I can get open, get to the net, create a little space for them, and who knows if I’ll even play with them? I don’t know. It’s just going to be exciting to come to a new team, meet all the guys and get settled in.”

In the last season and a half with the Panthers, Hayes has had considerably more experience facing off against the Black & Gold, and after a lifetime of watching his hometown team, he knows precisely what to expect of his new team.

“They’ve got a ton of talent up the middle, and I think playing with anybody is going to be a great opportunity for me,” he said. “They’re known as the Big Bad Bruins, so it’s always a heavy game when you’re playing against them. They’re a team that has always had a ton of size and a lot of power forwards as well, so I think we’re going to continue to try to go in that direction, adding a guy like myself and Beleskey. There’s a lot of skill players up there as well.”

The 25-year-old Hayes is coming off a career year with the Panthers in which he tallied 19 goals and 16 assists for 35 points in 72 games. He attributes his success to the coaching staff’s and management’s belief in his game, and he anticipates growing even more as a member of the B’s.

“Last year was basically my first opportunity to play a full season in the NHL, and I got the opportunity to play with some pretty good players and capitalize on my chances,” he said. “Last year was just a great opportunity for me. I finally got a chance to play every night and play with some great players. The coach there believed in me and gave me a chance to play. I just think [I had] chemistry with some of the players I was playing with, and [I] capitalized on my opportunity, which allowed me to have a great year.”

Beleskey is in the same boat. Of his six-plus seasons with the Ducks, his last was by far his best. He registered 22 goals and 10 assists in 65 games and helped Anaheim come within a game of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.

Like Hayes, he humbly attributed plenty of his success to the talent around him.

“I think I got off to a good start [last year], which helped,” he said. “The coach, Bruce Boudreau, put me in good positions — I played on the power play, played a lot with Ryan Kesler, who works extremely hard and who’s a great player to work with and play with.”

But Beleskey also didn’t hesitate to say that just as much of his success came from within.

“I think I took some confidence strides in my game,” he said. “I knew that it was time — that I needed to be more than just a grinder that’s going to help out the team. I wanted to be a guy who was able to lead in situations, and I think I took those steps.”

And like Hayes, Beleskey has no intention of dropping off in any way.

“That’s the goal, to get better every year, and it’s something I’ve been working on,” he said. “I think I took good steps last year, but I think I got a lot more to go still.”

Both of these players will be facing plenty of pressure in the upcoming season, albeit in different ways. For Hayes, the pressure comes from playing in front of his hometown crowd — his friends, his family and plenty of people who will be particularly tuned in to what he does, night in and night out, because of where he comes from.

But that doesn’t faze him. He already knows what it’s like to play for the home team. He did it for three years at BC.

“I’ve probably played more games in this city than anywhere in my entire career, so I don’t think it’s pressure; I think I can handle it,” he said with a smile. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for me, to be able to wear a jersey that I dreamed of wearing. It’s a dream come true for me.

“I get goosebumps thinking about it already, so it’s going to be a really cool experience for me, to be able to stand out there on opening night in Boston.”

For Beleskey, the pressure comes from the fan base’s expectation that he will fill the shoes of some of the beloved players that departed over the course of this summer.

But just like Hayes, he plans on using that pressure to push himself to be better than he was before. He plans on using that pressure to be the best he has ever been.

“I’m looking to go get a practice jersey to wear around in the summer, just to try it on,” he said with a laugh. “I’m excited to be here. It’s going to be fun to play in front of these fans here in Boston, and I’m just going to go out there and give it my best, and hopefully they’ll like me.

“There’s pressure,” he added, “but I think I put more pressure on myself to start every year to be better than I was last year. [The Bruins] had big [personnel] losses — I suppose those are moves they had to make — but I don’t think I’m here to fill anyone’s spot.

“I’m here to be Matt Beleskey and play my game, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

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