Jimmy Hayes, 31-year-old hockey player, 'was a giant of a young guy' with a huge heart

Scooby Axson

Rarely seen without a huge smile on his face, Jimmy Hayes could be an intimidating force when he needed to be.

But intimidating was not the first thing that came to mind when describing the gentle giant.

A 31-year-old who played seven seasons and 334 games in the NHL, Hayes used his 6-foot-5 frame to get to the net and maneuver in tight spaces. But, most important, Hayes was someone who impacted everyone in a positive way, from teammates to opponents alike.

Hayes was found dead Monday after authorities were called to his home in a Boston suburb. He leaves behind a a wife, two children, and four siblings, including Philadelphia Flyers center Kevin Hayes, and his parents. He is also the first cousin of Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk and Ottawa Senators forward Brady Tkachuk.

Jimmy Hayes played two seasons with the Boston Bruins.

The Boston Globe reported that the death was not deemed suspicious. No cause has been released.

"My whole life it has always been Jimmy and Kevin or the Hayes brothers. I have followed you around since I can remember and I wouldn’t want it any other way," Kevin Hayes wrote in an Instagram post. "Whether it was youth hockey, Nobles, Boston College or the NHL, you paved the way for me. You taught me everything I needed to know in order to succeed." 

The tributes honoring Hayes praised the winger nicknamed "Broadway."

“Jimmy was the kind of guy everyone wanted to be around,” Chicago Blackhawks center Adam Gaudette, who grew up near the Hayes family, said on Twitter. “The Hayes boys are great role models to all young hockey players in the Boston area, myself included." 

Hayes played with the Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils in his career, recording 54 goals and 55 assists.

Memories of Hayes mention his smile and entertaining side -- whether that's introducing various family members during a Christmas Eve party before the 2016 Winter Classic or most recently on Instagram when his wife Kristen posted the family celebrating his young son’s birthday.

"I have no words," Hayes' wife, Kristen, said on Instagram. "I’m heartbroken. We miss you. We love you. You should be here."

Before being drafted with the 60th overall pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008, Hayes starred at Boston College for three seasons under the guidance of legendary coach Jerry York. Hayes helped lead the Eagles to two Beanpots and two Hockey East titles and a national championship in 2010.

York, who will be entering his 50th season as a collegiate coach, said he received the news of Hayes’ death from another player and is still trying to process the news.

“Terrific player. Big strong, forceful player. Led us to a lot of championships, but more importantly, he was just an unbelievable teammate,” York told USA TODAY Sports on Monday. “If I had to rank my top five players that I enjoyed coaching, he would be in my top five for sure. His whole family became interwoven with the BC family and I was totally shocked. Just kind of devastated by the news.”

Hayes most recently played for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League during the 2018-19 season.

Hayes co-hosted a podcast called “Missin Curfew” with former players Shane O’Brien and Scottie Upshall, posting their latest show on Aug. 5.

York says for himself and the hockey community, Hayes’ death will sting for a while, not only because he was charitable with his time but because his positive, outgoing attitude rubbed off on everyone he knew.

“He’s a giant of a young guy. Just a big person, but his heart was just as big. And a great teammate, invariably brings groups of players back to his house for dinner in Dorchester (Massachusetts). During the summer months, three of four guys would crash at his place. Very outgoing, upbeat personality, just a great, great teammate.” York said.