For My Brother, the Immortal Jimmy Hayes by Kevin Hayes
St. Louis Blues
There’s a saying that I really like. My friend Mary told me about it during a really dark time. I don’t know who originally said it. Maybe it was Hemingway. All I know is that it’s gotten me through these last two years….
Every person has two deaths.
The first is when they’re buried in the ground.
The second is the last time that someone says their name.
So I don’t know … maybe if you leave your friends and family with enough great stories, then you can actually live forever.
If anyone could ever pull off immortality, it’s my brother, Jimmy.
I say my brother, but he was more like my best friend. And if I’m being really honest (because I know he’s up there somewhere keeping me in check) Jimmy was more like my hero. He was three years older than me, and he was — Can I curse here? Earmuffs, kids — he was just the f****** best. I don’t know how else to say it. I’ve never seen a kid who just wanted everybody else to be alright, all the time. You could be the biggest nerd in the world (me, for example) and Jimmy would go out of his way to talk to you and make you feel part of the group.
And we’re talking about a kid growing up in blue-collar Boston, by the way. A kid who was Top 10 in the youth hockey rankings every year. Recruited for Team USA. Local celebrity. He had every right to be a cocky little sh*t, and he was just … the man.
He was like the Dorchester Batman. If you were getting picked on, or were sitting at lunch alone, Jimmy would somehow get the Bat-Signal and he’d come swooping in to say, “Hey, what’s up, bud? Dude, those shoes are sick. You like hockey? You should come play wiffle ball with us later.”
Jimmy just had this innate ability to make you feel cool. I followed him basically everywhere. When I was in the 7th grade, I followed in his footsteps to this private school that was a 45-minute drive from our house. He was already living down there in the high school dorms, but I was commuting in every morning, and let’s just say it was a bit of a culture shock at first.
He was like the Dorchester Batman.
Seventh grade is nuts no matter where you are, but I’m a blue-collar city kid coming to this place where you gotta wear a polo and khakis and kids are talking about boating on Martha’s Vineyard or whatever. The first day before lunch, I was about to throw up. You’re just praying that somebody will let you sit with them.
I’ll never forget, as soon as we get into the cafeteria, Jimmy comes walking through the doors. And he’s like the mayor of the school by this point. He pretends like he has to ask one of the teachers something, but then he comes over to everybody like, “Hey, you guys know my brother Kevin? He’s the man, dude. [I was not the man]. He’s got so many stories. [I had no stories].”
He broke the ice for me, and immediately everybody was like: Hey, if Jimmy Hayes says you’re cool, then you’re cool.
For that whole first month, he kept randomly popping up everywhere I was — at lunch, in the hallway, at my locker — just like: Oh hey, bud, what are you doing here? I was just walking by.
He was just making sure that I was O.K. It’s what he did best.
When he went to play at Boston College, I was basically his adopted roommate on the weekends. I’ll never forget the first time I visited him in the dorms, when I was 16. The whole day, I was like: Man, this is going to be so crazy. What should I wear? I wonder if there’s going to be girls there. I bet there’s gonna be tons of girls.
I walk in the door all nervous, thinking it’s going to be like Old School, and instead it’s like 10 dudes crammed in front of the Xbox, screaming at the top of their lungs. They’re all dressed up in camouflage pants and t-shirts. War paint on their faces — literally Navy Seal war paint. Hockey helmets on.
They’re playing Call of Duty multiplayer.
“Airstrike!!! Call in the airstrike!!!!! GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!!!!!!!!!”
I walk in like: Ho-lee sh*it. I am in heaven.
That was probably one of the single greatest nights of my life. Because when I got on the sticks, I was at my peak performance as a videogame nerd. When you’re 16 years old with absolutely no girls to speak of, you’re unstoppable. Within 10 minutes, all the BC guys were like, “Jimmy. Oh my God. Your brother is sick.”
Picture 10 college hockey players sitting around with war paint on their faces on a Friday night, looking at you in awe as you call in the tactical UAV strike.
I was a hero that night.
I was one of the boys.
After that, it was a wrap. There was never any doubt where I was going to play in college. It was going to be me and Jimmy at BC, tearing it up.
Two years later, it was me and Jimmy at BC, tearing it up.
I walk in the door all nervous, thinking it’s going to be like Old School, and instead it’s like 10 dudes crammed in front of the Xbox, screaming at the top of their lungs.
We had so many good memories, but one really sticks out to me. I think it was probably the single best moment of my dad’s life. We were playing Northeastern at the Garden, and I scored a goal that Jimmy assisted. You know how every arena has its own unique P.A. guy who announces the goals? It’s that voice you hear growing up. You can hear it in your dreams.
Well, the Garden P.A. guy comes on: “Boston College goal scored by … HAYES!! ... Frommmmmm … HAYES!!”
I mean, come on. Two Dorchester kids who grew up shooting in the backyard against a piece of plexiglass from the old Boston Garden that just so happened to wind up at our house one day (as always, “no comment” from our pops). Pretty unreal moment.
For us to play on the same line at BC and then both get drafted to the NHL, and then both wind up in the Chicago Blackhawks organization … how can you script something like that?
I think it was more special for our three sisters than for anybody. We can’t leave them out of this story. They were the ones who were piling into the minivan to drive from Boston to Montreal in the summers because “Jimmy and Kevin got another tourney.” The rule was that they got to bring one friend along with them. So yeah, we’d basically be invading motels all up and down the east coast with The Hayes and Friends Circus. My sisters don’t know the first thing about hockey. They couldn’t even tell you which way I shoot. But they’re the most Boston sisters you can imagine — so loyal to the core — and if you asked them to name the five best players in the NHL, without hesitation, they’ll say:
1A. Kevin Hayes
1B. Jimmy Hayes
4. That Ovi Guy
5. That kid from Edmonton
They sincerely believed that I was better than Sid when I was a rookie. They would argue with you about it. (“Kev does the little things!”)
For them and my parents, me and Jimmy lining up against one another in the NHL was emotional. For us, it was just hilarious. I remember the first couple times we played each other, Jimmy was pulling this tough guy face in warmups. Obviously, his game was a little chippier than mine, so maybe that was part of his routine. I’m at the red line doing my hamstring stretches or whatever, and I look across and he’s doing his little stretches, stonefaced….
I catch his eye and give him a little eyebrow raise. Classic little brother trick. I didn’t even have to say anything. One look said it all.
It said: Jimmy, remember when I sh*t my pants in the 2nd grade?
He couldn’t help it. He starts dying laughing. Totally breaks character. Now I’m dying laughing.
As the big brother, he’s gotta stop first, right? So he’s trying his best to get serious in front of all his teammates, but I had tears coming out of my eyes.
Every time he pulled himself together, I’d make a little face like….
And he’d lose it again.
Good times. Two kids from Dorchester … who woulda thought?
But you know what the best part of being in the NHL with him was? We’d be back home in Dorchester grabbing a coffee in the neighborhood, and all of a sudden some kid would come into the coffee shop with his dad, and he’d be wearing me or my brother’s jersey. Seeing the HAYES on the back of the extra-small sweater always gave me chills.
We weren’t the best players in the NHL, no matter what my sisters say. But we were local heroes, and that was better than anything. Jimmy’s career was shorter than he would’ve wanted, but honestly I don’t think anybody took the setbacks in stride like my brother did. Usually when guys are eating healthy scratches, they get all depressed and frustrated. Jimmy handled it differently. When he was on the Panthers, he got scratched when my mom was in town visiting.
So before the pregame nap, him and Vince Trocheck were buzzing around town, killing time, and they stumbled on a Mercedes dealership.
A lot of guys go out and buy new suits whenever they get benched. Retail therapy. Jimmy bought a Benz.
My mom was like, “Oh my God, Jimmy!!! Are you crazy???”
He said, “What? I feel better. Come feel these seats. Leather, Mum.”
We weren’t the best players in the NHL, no matter what my sisters say. But we were local heroes, and that was better than anything.
He pulled up to the pregame skate with all the windows down, blasting music, big grin on his face. Everybody was dying. Only Jimmy would do something like that. I don’t think anyone else ever had more fun just being in the NHL than Broadway Jimmy Hayes.
When Jimmy hung up his skates in 2019, he made the seamless transition into being my No. 1 fan. I used to FaceTime him from the parking lot after every one of my games for his postgame analysis. No matter how well I played or how terrible, he’d always tell me that I was the best player on the ice.
We’d lose 6–2, and my coach would be all over my ass, and everyone on social media would be saying that I was awful, and Jimmy would be there on FaceTime with his little rundown of notes from the game, like.…
“That first shift of the second period? You were nasty there. That forecheck almost changed the whole game.”
Someone else in his shoes might’ve been bitter or competitive. But Jimmy was my biggest fan. I could do no wrong in his eyes. He always believed that I was an All-Star, every year.
I miss those FaceTime calls with him on the way home from games more than anything in the world.
Nobody ever thinks their big brother is going to die, I know.
I know it’s a cliché.
But if you really knew Jimmy, then you would understand why it was so shocking.
Everyone has seen the headlines. There’s no running from it. Two years ago, my brother died from an accidental overdose of cocaine and fentanyl.
Thirty-one years old. Amazing wife. Two kids at home. Everybody’s favorite guy….
It feels surreal, still. It hurts so bad some days that I can barely take it. That’s just the truth. It sucks. It sucks to talk about. It sucks to remember. It sucks to know that I’m never going to be able to hear another one of his stories. It just f****** sucks.
But if this story can save one family from the pain that we have been through, then I will talk about Jimmy all day long.
I lost my best friend because of a drug that is destroying America. It’s not just a problem in hockey. It’s a problem everywhere. It’s a problem in Boston, West Virginia, Texas, California, everywhere. It’s a problem with doctors and lawyers and engineers. Opioid addiction has probably touched most families in America at this point, and the only way we can save people is by bringing these stories into the light.
If pills can take my brother, they can take anyone.
I honestly don’t think the pain of Jimmy’s death will ever go away for me. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it will help me to keep telling his story, as much as it makes me want to cry. Maybe that will keep him immortal.
I have memories of him every single day. Songs on the radio, texts from friends, or just random flashbacks. I just had one right now.
If pills can take my brother, they can take anyone.
This is such a ridiculous memory, but this, to me, is pure Jimmy…..
During the COVID lockdowns, we were all going crazy. We went from being on the road and playing in front of 16,000 people a night, gearing up for the playoffs, to sitting at home tearing our hair out. All the boys were losing it. So Jimmy got the idea to get the old band back together on the Xbox.
We heard the call.
The call of duty.
I think Jimmy might’ve even been sending some of the boys headsets. What started out as a funny little joke turned into a nightly ritual. Alright, I’ll be honest, we were playing all day sometimes. Picture 8 to 10 grown men, sitting on their couches with headsets on at 11 o’clock in the morning, screaming at the TV.
“Airstrike!!! Call in the airstrike!!!!! GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!!!!!!!!!”
These are men with small children at home. Fathers. Husbands. Professional athletes.
“I’m hit!!!! Medic!!! MEDIC!!!!!!”
We called Jimmy “The Medic.”
See, in the new Call of Duty, you can pick your job. Everybody wants to be the sniper. Nobody wants to be the medic. They go around with a little pistol and a first aid kit helping people who got shot. It’s a dangerous, thankless job. Jimmy loved it.
He sucked at the game, so he’d run around the map, ducking machine gun fire, running from building to building, trying to help his buddies.
He’d be on the mic, shouting, “10-4!!! I’m coming!!! Stay with me, bud!!”
It went the same way every single time. Jimmy would save somebody with the med kit, and then five seconds later get blown to hell by a rocket launcher.
“I’m down. Medic down.”
He’d finish every game with 0 kills, 15 saves, 15 deaths.
Every 30 minutes, somebody on the chat would be like, “Alright boys, hang on a second, I gotta go change a diaper.”
Maybe it sounds stupid, but those were the best times. We had an absolute blast. It kept us sane. It kept us connected. That’s what Jimmy was all about, his entire life. He was the glue that held everything together.
He still is.
Hemingway — or whoever the hell said it — was right.
Jimmy is not gone.
We’re still saying his name, every single day.
So yeah … this is the hardest part. The ending. I’ve thought a lot about the memory that I want to leave you all with. What story can really sum up my brother, Broadway Jimmy Hayes? It seems impossible. Everything I think of … every funny story, every drinking story, every NHL story … it just doesn’t really seem to capture him.
So I won’t leave you with a funny story.
In fact, this isn’t even really a story. It’s just a moment. It’s a moment that happened all the time in our house — from when we were kids, all the way up to when we were both in the league.
Picture a dozen people sitting around the dinner table. Me, Jimmy, our three sisters, plus three or four of their friends, plus three or four random kids from the neighborhood who wandered through our front door, since it was never locked, and barely ever even closed. My mom is probably making eggplant parm. My dad is on the phone with one of his buddies talking about sports. My sisters are arguing about what happened with one of the Kardashians or whatever. Jimmy keeps trying to bang his glass to get everybody to shut up so he can tell some funny story.
Jimmy is not gone. We’re still saying his name, every single day.
“Guys! Listen! This is legendary….”
He starts telling his story over the chaos, and it’s always way too detailed and long-winded, and I’m probably texting on my phone, trying to get something going with the boys after dinner, and my sisters aren’t paying attention anymore, and Jimmy is trying to get everybody to shut up and listen.
Not so that everybody will laugh. Not for his own sake. No….
He always was telling a story to keep us all together at the table for as long as possible.
He never wanted a dinner to end. He never wanted to be alone. Home was always his favorite place in the world.
Finally, after trying in vain to control the chaos, Jimmy would throw his hands in the air and give up.
“Alright, whatever. I guess I’m not that funny anyway.”
That’s when everybody would always start dying laughing. Bread rolls flying across the table.
“You’re hilarious, Jimmy.”
You were. You were the best. You were everybody’s hero.
We will never stop telling your story.