Early Monday morning, The Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) announced its nominations for the 2021-22 Bill Masterton Trophy, and the PHWA Philadelphia chapter nominated Philadelphia Flyers forward Kevin Hayes as its pick. The trophy is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to the game of hockey.
The 29-year-old NHL veteran faced the unthinkable to start the 2021-22 season, as he lost his brother, Jimmy Hayes. As if things were not already difficult enough mentally and emotionally, he then required abdominal surgery three separate times and battled a blood infection before his return to the Flyers lineup, which had a little over two months left in the season. Since returning to the Flyers’ lineup at the beginning of March, he leads the team in points with 21 points (7 goals and 15 assists) over the course of 25 games played.
“Kevin is an excellent choice and is deserving of this nomination,” said General Manager Chuck Fletcher. “To return from both the physical and emotional challenges he faced this season speaks volumes about his character as a person, but also his commitment to our club and to his teammates. Kevin not only fought through many issues during the year, but he also performed at a high level and was one of our best players each time he was in the lineup.”
Despite the challenges he faced during this year, Hayes did not allow anything to stop him from playing the game he loves. Battling through injury to get back on the ice showed how much dedication and love he had for the game. This season was difficult both on and off the ice, but those difficult times taught him to keep pushing forward no matter how hard life gets.
Hayes is Well Deserving of the Nomination
From losing his brother to battling back from injury three separate times, Hayes fought through one of the most difficult seasons of his hockey career. Not only was the death of his brother extremely difficult on him both mentally and physically, but being away from his teammates while rehabbing from injury made things even more challenging. The emotional toll was something he knew he was going to have to deal with coming into the season, but he did not know how difficult things were going to end up being.
“It’s been difficult, but playing hockey this year was something I knew was going to be emotional. It definitely was, it’s had its ups and downs. But definitely proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish this year and definitely been thinking a lot about my brother when I do play.”
“It was difficult this year trying to come back and play and not really knowing why I wasn’t getting better. When you get three surgeries, you should start feeling better. That point was never really happening for me. I’d feel better for a couple of days and then right back to square one. Ultimately we figured out that I had an infection in my blood. Thankfully we figured that out and once that settled down, that’s when I started feeling a lot better.”
The adversity-filled year trickled into more than just his personal life. The Flyers also dealt with their worst season in recent memory. Loss after loss built up as the season progressed, but he was not going to allow that to stop him from putting his best foot forward. Regardless of what he had going on, he still showed up every single day, ready to be the best teammate he could possibly be. His signature smile and laugh is something his teammates say lights up a whole locker room.
Hayes’ Reaction to Being Nominated
Being nominated for the Bill Masterton Trophy by the PHWA is a huge honor. For Hayes, it shows everything he went through this season did not go unnoticed. From the support of his teammates to the fans, there was never a moment where he felt like he was alone. He had all the support in the world, which helped him continue moving forward in his grieving process and rehab off the ice.
“It’s an individual award but it’s definitely not possible without my family, my teammates, my coaches, this organization, players around the league, and the fans in Philly,” said Hayes. “I’ve truly been grateful for everyone that’s tried to reach out that’s helped me and supported me and my family.”
“It’s definitely been a whirlwind of a year for myself and my family,” Hayes said last week. “After everything that went down in August, I didn’t really know how this year was going to play out. It’s been a bit of an up-and-down year surgery-wise and just kind of trying to stay really connected with my family, trying to check in on them every day while I’m trying to focus and play.”
He joins last year’s Masterton Trophy winner, Oscar Lindblom, as a recent nominee for the Flyers. Lindblom was the team’s representative each of the last two seasons following a battle with Ewing’s sarcoma. For Hayes, he is a reminder that life can be difficult, but there is always a bounce back. There are four members of the Flyers organization who received the award in franchise history including Bob Clarke (1972), Tim Kerr (1989), and Ian Laperriere (2011).
Bobby Bader Jr. is a freelance journalist born and raised in Philadelphia, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the start of the 2020-21 National Hockey League Season. He currently works with the Hershey Cubs Hockey Club (USPHL Premier) as the team’s media coordinator and serves as the Assistant Sports Information Director at Penn State Harrisburg. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Bobby on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo in articles like this one.