BOSTON – You wouldn’t think that Jimmy Hayes
would have much in common with a room full of local high school athletes.
But in reality, he does. Not too long ago, the Bruins winger was a high school athlete himself.
Hayes, born and bred in Dorchester, was the featured speaker at the Boston Herald “Hot Shots” awards last Wednesday evening at the New Balance factory store. The event recognized 25 local high school students for their athletic accomplishments during this academic school year.
Hayes shared the inspiring tale of how he got to where he is today.
“I’ve loved hockey ever since I was big enough to put on skates,” Hayes said during his speech. “My passion for the sport often took my family and I on the road for weekend games and tournaments across the northeast.
“As a freshman in high school, I played for Nobles School, and it was around this time that I started thinking about making it to the pros.”
After an impressive freshman season at Nobles, the U.S. National Team Development program invited him to play on their team the following season.
Everything was seemingly going well for Hayes, until he found out some heartbreaking news.
“One day that summer, my parents sat me, my sisters and my brother down at the dinner table and told us they had some news,” Hayes remembered.
“My mom looked at all of us and said she had colon cancer.”
Hayes would have to turn down the chance to play for the U.S. National Team to stay home and be with his mother.
The next season, things started looking up again for Hayes and his family. His mother was recovering and he was playing well in his sophomore season at Nobles. So well, in fact, that the U.S. National Team called again to recruit him to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This time he had to go. He felt that to make it to the pros, he needed to make the move.
Hayes excelled during his first year with the team, scoring 14 points in 14 games. He was projected to be drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft the following year. The next season, however, was not as fruitful.
“I struggled on the ice,” said Hayes. “I couldn’t find the back of the net. I started to lose confidence in myself.”
With a lack of goal-scoring and waning confidence, Hayes was sent to Lincoln, Nebraska to play for the USHL Lincoln Stars.
After a tough year in Ann Arbor and a so-so season in Lincoln, Hayes no longer impressed his critics. One scout labeled him a, “huge waste of talent.”
Hayes used that criticism as fuel.
“I couldn’t let that get to me – not with all the work I still had to do to prove myself,” he said.
Hayes was drafted 60th in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
But before he would get his chance in the pros, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound winger was off to Boston College. Hayes spent three seasons with BC where he would win two Beanpots, a NCAA National Championship and two Hockey East titles.
And after all of this success in college, Toronto traded his rights to Chicago in 2010. He would then be traded to Florida in 2013, and moved again in 2015 to Boston.
“Each time I got the call, it was the same familiar feeling – the feeling of being unwanted,” said Hayes. “It wasn’t just about having to move to a new city, saying goodbye to old teammates and old friends and saying hello to new ones…It was more about feeling that you were not valued.”
As he did a few years earlier, he turned it around and looked at it in a new light.
“Getting traded still isn’t easy, but once I started looking at it in a more positive way, it helped me feel at ease with the situation and allow me to really focus on being the best that I could be for my new team,” said Hayes.
After sharing his inspiring story he gave the young athletes in the crowd two important pieces of advice. One, appreciate all the support you get from your friends and family. And secondly, be true to who you are.
“I’ve always wanted to be a professional hockey player and to this day, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” said Hayes. “Once you find your passion, whether it’s sports or something else entirely, go after it.”