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Flyers’ Kevin Hayes, playing for his brother, is Masterton nominee

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Kevin Hayes, Philadelphia Flyers
It has been an emotional season for Kevin Hayes, who is the Flyers' Masterton Trophy nominee. Photo: Zack Hill.

Flyers center Kevin Hayes has been named the Philadelphia Hockey Writers Association’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player who exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication.

Each of the NHL’s 32 teams has a nominee (see below), and voting will end May 2.

It has been a trying and tragic year for Hayes. His brother, Jimmy, died on Aug. 23. Hayes called him his best friend.

Just before the start of the Philadelphia Flyers’ training camp in September, Hayes had the second of three surgeries in an eight-month span.

The veteran center said playing hockey was extra important to him this season.

“It’s definitely been a whirlwind of a year for myself and my family,” Hayes said the other day. “After what went down in August, I didn’t know how this year was going to play out. It’s been an up-and-down year, surgery-wise, and trying to stay really connected with my family. Trying to check in every day while trying to focus and play.”

Jimmy on his mind

Added Hayes: “It’s been difficult, but playing hockey this year was something I knew was going to be emotional, and it definitely was. It’s had it’s ups and downs, and I’m definitely proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish this year. I’ve definitely been thinking a lot about my brother.”

His brother, Jimmy, a former NHL player, died with cocaine and fentanyl in his system, according to his widow, Kristen Hayes.

Kevin Hayes dedicated the season to him.

Hayes, 29, had two abdominal surgeries before he was able to play this season. In January, he had a procedure to drain fluid because of an infection in his groin area.

Because of the medical issues, Hayes has been in and out of the lineup all season. He is finishing on a strong note, collecting 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 25 games since returning on March 5. All told, he has 30 points (9-21) in 45 games.

“It was difficult this year, trying to come back and play, and not really knowing why I wasn’t getting better,” he said. “You get three surgeries, you should start feeling better, and it never really happened for me … until they figured out I had an infection in my blood. Once that settled down, that’s when I started feeling a lot better. I feel like my game is just starting to get back to where it was.”

Though the Philadelphia Flyers have won two straight games for the first time in about six weeks, they have struggled mightily this season and will miss the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94.

“Obviously, our team game isn’t where it needs to be,” Hayes said before the two straight victories.  “I don’t really care what happens with my stats, individually. The team’s not winning. I’m happy with how I have been playing, but I’m a leader on this team and we’re not winning, so (that’s what matters).”

A native of Dorchester, Mass., Kevin Hayes has embraced his leadership duties since long-time captain Claude Giroux was traded to Florida last month.

Team leader

In short, Hayes has become a leader on and off the ice despite a year filled with heartbreak.

“It’s hard not to get emotional when I think about my brother,” he said. “But the way that I’ve coped with it, is just kind of thinking about all the fun times we’ve had together, especially playing hockey. And just trying my hardest to act like him, and how he treats people. A pretty outgoing human. My brother was probably more outgoing than I am and more inclusive than I am. Every day at the rink and on the ice, I try to emulate what he would do. And really just try to treat everyone with respect.”

Returning in March to finish this season “is something my brother would have wanted me to do,” Hayes said. “Hockey has pretty much been my life since I can remember, and the way the organization and my teammates have acted this year in support has really made things a lot easier. I knew right from the start it was going to be difficult to play this year, but it’s something my brother would have wanted me to do. I feel a lot better at the rink with my teammates playing hockey than I am just kind of sitting around.”

Hayes said the support he has received from family, his teammates, and the entire NHL has been overwhelming.

“The players around the league, the fans in Philly, it’s insane the support I’ve received over the last couple months,” he said,. “I truly am grateful for everyone who has tried to reach out to help me and support me and my family.

“It just shows what type of community the hockey world is,” he added. “We go to battle pretty much every night against one another, but the donations and support I’ve received have just been (phenomenal).”

Flyers’ Masterton winners

The Philadelphia Flyers’ Oskar Lindblom won the Masterton last year. Other Flyers to win the award: Ian Laperriere in 2011, Tim Kerr in 1989, and Bobby Clarke in 1972.

Here are this year’s nominees, including former Flyer Luke Schenn of Vancouver:

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf.

Arizona: Andrew Ladd.

Boston: Jake DeBrusk.

Buffalo: Kyle Okposo.

Calgary: Chris Tanev.

Carolina: Antti Raanta.

Chicago: Dylan Strome.

Colorado: Jack Johnson.

Columbus: Justin Danforth.

Dallas: Tyler Sequin.

Detroit, Marc Staal.

Edmonton: Kris Russell.

Florida: Anthony Duclair.

Los Angeles: Blake Lizotte.

Minnesota: Jared Spurgeon.

Montreal: Carey Price.

Nashville: Mark Borowiecki.

New Jersey: Nico Hischier.

New York Islanders: Zdeno Chara.

New York Rangers: Chris Kreider.

Ottawa: Anton Forsberg.

Philadelphia: Kevin Hayes.

Pittsburgh: Brian Boyle.

St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko.

San Jose: Brent Burns.

Seattle: Jaden Schwartz.

Tampa Bay: Alex Killorn.

Toronto: Ondrej Kase.

Vancouver: Luke Schenn.

Vegas: Jack Eichel.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom.

Winnipeg: Josh Morrissey.

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