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Training Camp Day 2: Hayes Speaks from the Heart

On Friday, at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, Hayes sat in front of cameras and microphones to publicly discuss the emotional ordeal he's experienced since the sudden passing of his brother, former NHL player Jimmy Hayes

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer / philadelphiaflyers.com

9/24 Training Camp: HAYES

Hayes speaks to media

Hear from Kevin Hayes during Training Camp.

  • 10:22 •

It was a conversation that, by Kevin Hayes' own admission, the Flyers center dreaded. On Friday, at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, Hayes sat in front of cameras and microphones to publicly discuss the emotional ordeal he's experienced since the sudden passing of his brother, former NHL player Jimmy Hayes, at the age of 31. A subdued but forthright Hayes eloquently spoke from the heart. He expressed his gratitude to the many people who have expressed their support. People from around the hockey world as well as fans across the world have reached out to Kevin and the Hayes family.

There were only five questions asked during Hayes' press conference. The first three pertained to how he's coped with the loss of his brother since Jimmy's passing on Aug. 23. Hayes said that he's dedicating the 2021-22 season to his brother's memory. The latter two dealt with Kevin's recent abdominal muscle tear and surgery that will keep him out for the next six to eight weeks. Head coach Alain Vigneault granted the player's request to attend team meetings and be around his teammates during training camp.

The following is a transcript of Hayes' comments.

On coping with Jimmy's passing and the supportiveness of the hockey community.

"Everyone knows what happened. It has been a tough month. Life is fragile. It's never fun to lose someone who is your best friend, someone you looked up to, and paired with you for your whole life. You've seen it in tributes with so much going on around the hockey world. My brother was a special person. He touched a lot of lives. He really enjoyed life and enjoyed helping others. It sucks that he's gone. It happened way too fast. I'll never forget him, obviously.

"I've been dreading this conversation with you guys, but there are some people I truly would like to thank. The hockey world is an impressive community. It's been crazy with the amount of people that have reached out to myself and my family. The amount of people who showed up to the services was incredible. Some people that were very close with my brother, who I didn't even know that are in the hockey world, reached out and sent flowers to my family. 

"There's definitely some people I would like to thank: Chuck and AV have been tremendous through all this. They sent a team bus up to the services and it was incredible to see the support from them. Brian Burke, who's with the Penguins right now, basically reached out every day to check how I'm doing. He, unfortunately, lost his son, so he's been helping me through a lot of stuff. Just seeing people like P.K. Subban, Patrick Maroon, Ryan McDonaugh, Shattenkirk. G was up there. Brauner, Joel, Keith Yandle, Chris Wagner. Just a lot of people. People I didn't know reached out like Sidney Crosby and [Gabriel] Landeskog. 

"It's been incredible, the support. It shows when we're on the ice. It is truly a battle. We want to win every game, but the hockey community is a really special community. It goes much further than playing against each other on the ice. I was totally taken back with the support I received. There are some people, to this day, that check in.

"I kind of got away from your question. To answer your question: it's going to be weird stepping on the ice for the first time knowing that my brother is not going to be there. He was my biggest reporter. If I had a bad game, it was [Alain Vigneault's] fault, not mine. If I wasn't playing a lot of minutes, he wanted to talk to AV and Chuck. It's something that I'll miss. It's something that I think will really push me this year. When I'm having bad days or bad games or not playing up to how the fans want me to, I'll probably just think of my brother. He'll, hopefully, push me through. It's going to be weird for sure. I don't think my life will be the same, honestly. It is really nice to be in Philly with these guys, being around the team, and being here with you guys."

Has it been cathartic being around your teammates?

"I've been trying to get home as much as possible. See my three sisters, my parents, my friends, Jimmy's wife Kristen and the kids, and her family. Up until this [injury] happened, I was going home every Friday. It's been nice to be back. 

"My family is really well known in Boston, especially where we live. My brother and I are role models in our community. Our family is very well-known. My family gives back a lot to the community, so it was tough being there. It was awkward, not knowing how to act. 

"I couldn't get coffee without someone coming up, awkwardly holding the door for me, or wanting to buy me coffee. It just got repetitive. No one really knows how to handle what happened. There's no playbook on how to handle death. 

"It was really nice to get back here and get into the routine. I think we're going really well here. Come to the rink, work out, skate. Be with the guys, go to dinner with the guys. I felt amazing to have the guys and to have this happen. I asked AV if I could be around the team as well and help out as much as I can. Do my rehab when they're on the ice, so when they're finishing, I'm finishing. When they're in the gym, I could hang out. Being around made things a lot easier for me."

The way this off-season played out for the Flyers and a lot of the guys acquired were guys you knew. With how it played out, how will it be having that large support system?

"Things happen for a reason. Obviously, I was pretty negative for a bit in the last month and then you realize what it has turned out to be and who is here with me. I am living with Keith [Yandle] and he is probably my best friend in this whole entire world after my brother. The fact that he is living with me is special. I have some bad days and he is just an awesome dude. He really is. You guys will get to know him. He really just makes it a lot easier. 

"Cam Atkinson was my brothers' roommate at school, so I have known Cam for a long time. Brass, I played with really early in my career. He used to come to Boston and be with me and my brother all the time. Reamer [James van Riemsdyk] played with my brother for a while. It is cool how things played out and I think it will make things a lot easier."

On his reinjury during precamp training on Monday and surgery the next day. 

"I got the surgery in May and dealt with it for probably 70% of the season last year. We kind of went through an awkward season last year where we were close to playoffs and then we weren't and then we were close again. It wasn't really the right time to get it fixed. I then got it fixed. Dr. Meyers did a great job. I did rehab here and then went home. Felt great and skated in Boston with a bunch of the guys on the Bruins. I worked out and felt really good. I was skating, scrimmaging, and working out regularly and felt very back to normal. 

"About two weeks ago, I felt something that seemed like just an everyday injury that hockey players deal with. I took a couple days off then went on the ice. Took a couple days off. I did something on my own to make it feel even better and then went home to see my family. I came back on Monday and felt amazing, the best I had felt in two weeks. I went for a breakaway and something happened and it all kind of came apart. No one is at fault obviously. I don't think it was avoidable. It was inevitable that it was going to happen from [how I was feeling] two or three weeks ago. It sucks, honestly. I had felt really good all summer and now I am out for a little bit of time. I think it is just unlucky."

Good news on Lindblom

At the end of Alain Vigneault's post-practice press conference, the Flyers head coach delivered some good news: left winger Oskar Lindblom, who was declared cancer-free in June 2020 after a battle with Ewing Sarcoma, underwent a follow-up scan on Friday. He remains cancer-free. 

Tweet from @NHLFlyers: AV ends his press conference with the best type of news. @oskarlindblom remains cancer-free following his latest scan. 🧡🖤🤍 pic.twitter.com/W0FKiYIzv7

Through the first two days of training camp, there has been a night-and-day difference on the ice with Lindblom compared to last season. There's been a very noticeable uptick in terms of his physical strength, ability to consistently win puck battles and in sustaining a high level of energy. After having a full offseason to train, he looked like old self on the ice early in camp. 

Day 2 Practice Notes

The main personnel and line combinations in Groups A and B -- the players likely to be on the opening night roster or in the competition for roster spots -- remained the same as the first day of camp. The groups switched order in terms of morning/afternoon ice time and some of the drills being run.

"We're in a phase right now. This training camp is well-laid out as far as we've got five practice days before our first exhibition. I've got five days laid out and then we play the exhibition. I'm going to feel the energy of our group and then feel out the bumps and bruises because this is challenging a little bit. I might modify my day off. I was giving a day off in between both exhibition games so I might change that moving forward. We'll see how things go. We've got every day laid out. We're working on a theme for that day and I'm going to be able to touch D-zone coverage," Vigneault said.

"Today was more neutral zone [assignments]. Tomorrow. will be a bit of tracking and forecheck, and the fourth day will be a little bit of specialty teams. Before we hit our first exhibition, we'll have touched on most of the areas without the puck, which we talked a little bit about yesterday as a group where you need to tighten up in a few areas. We're laying the foundation for our group and hopefully, it's going to pay off early in the season."

Shortly before the start of camp, Vigneault said that he spent a significant portion of the season studying film on what the top two-way teams in the NHL -- and the teams that went deepest into the Stanley Cup playoffs -- did in terms of their defensive play last season. After the Flyers ranked 7th in goals against average during the 2019-20 season, the team GAA crashed to the very bottom (31st-ranked) in the league last season. Vigneault said that he noticed areas where the Flyers could make adjustments. 

A common trait of top defensive teams, for example, is that they consistently defend in layers and swarm the puck.

"For me, it's an exercise. I'm hoping every year to be one of those teams that teams are looking at to see what they're doing well. They're gotten to where they're supposed to get. It's always an exercise that you steal from the teams that are having success and you try to copy from areas that you can bring to your team because it fits well to your group. Looking at that layer, numbers, it's definitely something that we are re-emphasizing and refocusing on. We're making tweaks to certain areas that we feel that are going to make us more effective when we don't have the puck," Vigneault said.

The following were the primary line combinations during the second day of camp; nearly identical to the first day except for a few switches from the Group C early morning personnel to the main practice groups. Phantoms/Flyers forward Ryan Fitzgerald has sustained a lower-body injury. He will not practice on Saturday.

GROUP B (morning session)

James van Riemsdyk - Morgan Frost - Joel Farabee
Nate Thompson - Scott Laughton - Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman - German Rubtsov - Linus Sandin
Garrett Wilson - Jackson Cates - Max Willman

Travis Sanheim - Rasmus Ristolainen
Cam York - Adam Clendening
Mason Millman - Wyatte Wylie
Quinn Schmiemann - Ethan Samson

Martin Jones
Felix Sandström

Group B highlights:

*Thompson and Laughton continued to rotate shifts between left wing and center. 

*Ristolainen collided heavily with Frost, who was thankfully fine afterwards. Later, van Riemsdyk scored off a shovel-pass set-up from Frost.

*Sandin scored a goal off a wicked deflection of a York point shot.

*After practice, Martin Jones discussed his previous working relationship with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh, who was his developmental instructor while Jones was in the LA Kings organization: "Worked with him for three years in L.A. while I was in Manchester. We've worked really well together, and it was part of my decision in coming here. I need to have a good year. He was able to make me play some pretty good hockey. Hopefully, we can find that again."
 

GROUP A (afternoon session)

Claude Giroux - Sean Couturier - Travis Konecny
Oskar Lindblom - Derick Brassard - Cam Atkinson
Isaac Ratcliffe - Tanner Laczynski - Tyson Foerster
Matthew Strome - Cal O'Reilly - Gerry Mayhew

Ivan Provorov - Ryan Ellis
Keith Yandle - Justin Braun
Egor Zamula - Nick Seeler
Brian Zanetti - Linus Högberg

Carter Hart
Samuel Ersson

Group A highlights:

* Atkinson scored at least four goals during the session, going to the right spots to receive passes or collect rebounds. On one sequence, he batted a Lindblom rebound out of the air and the puck dribbled through the pads of Hart. 

* The prettiest goal of either session was a 2-on-1 rush in which Giroux set up Konecny. 

* At one juncture during this session, Giroux and Couturier bumped into each other and both went to the ice. Thankfully, it was a low-impact collision. Both players got right back up and were fine. Later, Couturier was in net-front deflection position and had to duck an errant point shot that rose dangerously toward his head. The puck rattled loudly off the end glass.

* One of the top offensive players in the American Hockey League, Phantoms newcomer Mayhew scored a filthy bar-down goal that new rookie teammate Ersson had no chance of stopping.

* Top goal-scoring prospect Foerster did not have his best day of practice but buried a rising shot over Ersson's shoulder.
 
Yandle Talks Hayes, AV, Giroux and Iron Man streak

Following the afternoon session, Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle talked about his longtime close friendship with Kevin Hayes (at whose home Yandle will be staying this season), his past and present working relationship with Vigneault and why he's not focused specifically on trying to break Doug Jarvis' record NHL "Iron Man" streak this season for consecutive games played.

Yandle on Hayes: "I have known Mr. Hayes [Kevin and Jimmy's father] for as long as I can remember. He was one of those guys that you would always see in the neighborhood. Just a great guy always taking care of you. Would see you and buy you lunch. A guy who always gave back to the community. I used to ref Kevin's games as a kid. I think he is 6 years younger than me. Our friendship really took off when I went to New York and have been the best of friends since.

"I think it is a good thing I am able to be here for him. He is there for me, too, so it is one of those things. We both don't like to be alone, so we are able to hangout every day. It will be good too, especially during the season to be able to sit down and watch games. I think it is going to be a lot of fun.

"The first couple weeks were just trying to learn the ways around the city. Kevin is the type of guy that if he likes a restaurant, he goes there pretty much every night. I had to mix it up a few times with him, to branch out. Really just get my feel for the city, little things like driving to the practice rink since the roads are a little confusing here. We watch a lot of TV, a lot of couch time and a lot of laughs. Obviously, it helped a lot having him and being able to meet guys on the team and go out to dinners. He is that guy that was able to bring me around to everyone else."

Yandle on playing for Vigneault in New York and Philadelphia: "I think things have changed to the way he coaches. Obviously different teams, systems and the game has changed a lot in the 5 or 6 years. I think a lot of his lingo and stuff like that are a lot of the same. I would say it is easier having some familiarity with him. It is definitely nice to have a face that you have played for before where you know what to expect out at practice and it has been fun so far."

Yandle on his daily competitive battles with Giroux in camp: " Playing against him for a long time you know how competitive he is, but I didn't realize how competitive he is [at practice] on the ice, off the ice. In the gym, he wants to get better every day and is pushing himself and everyone around him. He is a guy that is a lot of fun to be around. You can't have a bad day around him or he is going to make you pay. Definitely a fun guy to play with."

Yandle on his Iron Man streak: "I'm a day-by-day guy. Everything in my life and I am sure my wife hates that about me. I am minute-by-minute, don't like to plan anything, see how it goes."

Day 3 Preview

Along with announcing the lower-body injury to Fitzgerald, the Flyers released the practice-day rosters for Saturday's practice. Note: 2021 second-round pick Samu Tuomaala is listed twice (Group A and Group C). In actuality, he will slot into Group A with Fitzgerald unavailable. Tuomaala had been part of the Group C practices -- the group mainly comprised of AHL/ECHL players coming back from recent injuries and first-time camp attendees likely to play junior hockey during the 2021-22 season -- on Days 1 and 2.

Tweet from @billmeltzer: Flyers practice groups for Day 3 of training camp. pic.twitter.com/qx0snngnoy

In addition to the Flyers' practice sessions and media availability for players and Vigneault, there will be a noontime press conference related to the 2021 USA Hockey Warrior Classic. Flyers Warriors head coach Brad Marsh will discuss the upcoming national tournament, which will be held on Nov. 4 to 7 at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees and the Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, NJ. The defending USA Warrior Hockey champion Flyers Warriors, whose program has grown to a three-tiered roster based on players' ability levels and hockey-playing experience, will serve as the host team.

The Flyers Warriors, who are an official affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers as well as a branch of USA Hockey's Warrior program for military veterans with VA-certified disabilities, are widely considered the nation's model Warrior Hockey program. It incorporates not just on-ice programs and socialization outlets (for players, spouses and families) but also vital services to players and their families including access to a behavioral health program. The Flyers affiliate teams, which operate under the direction of Rob Baer along with Marsh and Bob "the Hound" Kelly, include not just the Flyers Warriors but also the two-time North American power wheelchair hockey championship winning Philadelphia Flyers PowerPlay, the Philadelphia Flyers Special Hockey program for special-needs children and the Flyers-run branch of the NHL-sponsored Learn to Play youth hockey program.

Half an hour before Marsh speaks, Comcast-Spectacor chairman and Flyers governor Dave Scott will hold a media availability session of his own to discuss the upcoming season.

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