VOORHEES, N.J. -- Kevin Hayes isn't old by any means, but the Philadelphia Flyers forward knew he needed to do something more during the offseason to keep his body working its best.
That's why the 27-year-old, who has close to 400 games of NHL experience, began adding body work to his training routine, and he said the benefits have him feeling as good as he has at any point during his career.
"You feel better on the ice, off the ice," said Hayes, whose Flyers play the Washington Capitals at Wells Fargo Center on "Wednesday Night Hockey" (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN). "You're more in touch with your body. I wish I started earlier."
Hayes worked during the offseason with his longtime trainer, Brian McDonagh of Edge Performance Systems in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and made the five-mile drive to TB12 Sports, where he worked with co-owner Alex Guerrero and his staff 2-3 times a week. (TB12, of course, refers to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Guerrero's most famous client.)
"You go there after you work out or before you work out and it's just getting in tune with your body, ART (active release therapy) stuff, and making sure you're rehabbing the right way," Hayes said. "It's something that I've gone there and my left lower back is hurting me and after two sessions there, I'm totally fine.
"You're on a massage table but it's like a full-blown workout. You're sweating. It's just another way to kind of get an upper hand on opponents and make your body the best it possibly can be."
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McDonagh, who has worked with Hayes for 14 years, said it was his idea for Hayes to engage with TB12 Sports because he was confident they could formulate a program that would help.
"They do phenomenal tissue work, active release, things of that nature," McDonagh said. "We wanted to get Kevin plugged in there a couple times a week during the summer. ... I work with a lot of NFL football players and I've been round Alex for a long time. We've had guys before that have been really stiff in the hips, really tight, and working with Alex and his body coaches, seeing a significant difference and a lot of improvement. This summer I said (to Hayes) this is something we're going to want to add in because it's had such a positive benefit for so many of my athletes, I think this would be a great thing to add to our summer routine."
Hayes said he's seen significant benefits already this season. He has seven points (four goals, three assists) averaging 18:16 of ice time in 17 games. It's the second-highest average ice time he's had in the first 17 games of an NHL season, after the 19:16 he averaged with the New York Rangers to start last season but said he hasn't felt the usual aches and pains that come with playing heavy minutes.
"I feel really good on the ice," he said. "Obviously the points are what they are, but I feel like the best I've been this year. I feel great."
Alain Vigneault, who coached Hayes in his first four NHL seasons with the Rangers, said he's noticed some differences in Hayes now that they've reunited in Philadelphia.
"He's got a six-pack now," Vigneault said. "He didn't have a six-pack when I met him quite a few years ago. That's all about understanding what it takes to become a pro from what you need to do on the ice to what you need to do off the ice as far as conditioning, as far as nutrition, as far as rest, as far as sleep. It's not easy and players have to be taught what it takes."
Guerrero said he and his staff designed a routine specific to the 6-foot-5, 216-pound center.
"He had his strength and conditioning program set from Brian at EPS," Guerrero said. "Our thought process here was to help enhance the program by making sure that his tissues really stayed pliable, long and soft, through the course so his muscles are able to function and fire at 100 percent to do the movement that he's asking them to do without putting any load on any of his joint structures."
Guerrero says that happens by having the athlete engage the individual muscle he and his staff are looking to improve.
"Muscles learn through trauma, and through the traumatic deep force manual therapy, we're able to set new neural pathways of behavior," he said. "So the brain is like, 'This is how Kevin wants me to move, so we're going to get this muscle to fire at 100 percent.' We're getting a lot of good, rich blood to come through and nourish the tissue through the movement, through load. The brain develops these new neural pathways of behavior and says, 'OK I can contract at 100 percent to do this function.'"
Hayes said it took two sessions during the offseason to see the benefits, and he's continued to do some of the work he did with Guerrero and the TB12 staff on his own, including an enhanced pregame stretching routine. Guerrero said TB12 body coaches will visit Hayes throughout the season to continue their work.
Hayes has seen such a benefit that some of his teammates will stop by when the body coaches come to Philadelphia.
"Some of the boys want to try it out," he said. "We have a group message thing, say this guy is coming in, if you want to meet at my apartment, he's there."
Hayes, who signed a seven-year contract with the Flyers on June 19, is looking for any edge he can find to build on the personal NHL-best 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) he had in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets last season.
"Maybe it makes me 2 percent more engaged skating around," he said. "But I've never felt better on the ice."