( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

By: Ryan Ellis | Follow Me On Twitter @_RyEllis_

Tragedy, often like a fog, rolls in unexpectedly and overstays its welcome. Similarly, the sudden murkiness that can cause pause and confusion all but forces us to slow down and refocus. On Monday morning, former Boston Bruin and Dorchester’s own, Jimmy Hayes, had unexpectedly passed away at age 31. Leaving behind a beautiful family, his wife Kristen, their two young boys Mac and Beau, his mother, father, three sisters, and brother, Kevin of the Philadelphia Flyers.

The news of his passing rocked the hockey world. Fans, players, coaches, and media members flooded social media outlets with words of mourning and disbelief. For those who knew little about the man off the ice, it quickly became obvious how beloved Jimmy, affectionately known as Broadway, truly was. In his short time on Earth, Jimmy made quite the impression on those lucky enough to call him a friend.

It was late morning on Monday that I had received a text announcing Jimmy’s passing. Unfortunately, I didn’t need to see John Buccigross’ tweet to know it was true. Our circle of friends had overlapped years ago, and this devastating information was sadly credible given the connection.

I crossed paths with Jimmy more times than I could count. He spent a lot of time with his family not far from where I live here on Cape Cod. Each summer for the past several years, Jimmy would make appearances here and there at a local restaurant where I would sling drinks once upon a time. It wasn’t uncommon to see current and former NHL players at work. After all, former Boston Bruins enforcer Jay Miller was my boss, and the Cape is a popular destination for even non-Bruins affiliated athletes. My coworkers and I had the pleasure of meeting and serving some of the brightest stars of the NHL’s past and present while working there.

Running into Jimmy in the summertime became commonplace. In my younger years, I would see more of him than I have in recent memory. Even in passing on the way in and out of a local store or waiting in line for a table at the world-famous Chart Room, he was never too busy for a quick hello. As you could imagine, for a hockey nut like me, that was awesome.

Now would Jimmy have been able to pick me out of a crowd? Almost certainly not. But did he have a way of making you feel like an old friend the second you said hi? Absolutely. That’s the kind of guy he was. A local guy with a big laugh and smile who happened to be a pro hockey player, bereft of any sense of entitlement.

Dawning the uniform of your hometown team is a dream for kids across the world. Jimmy did just that. He had reached a level of success most people can only dream of. There is often a sense of entitlement accompanied by fame and success. Not with Mr. Hayes. He took the time to acknowledge anyone who greeted him. He treated my friends and me like peers when he didn’t have to. It’s well documented that NHL players are generally down-to-earth and gracious people as far as professional athletes go. Jimmy was no exception. If anything, he was in a tier above the rest.

I find myself distractedly wandering back to my phone, dolefully refreshing my Twitter timeline, watching and reading as former teammates paid their respects and voiced their sorrow. Reading these stories and getting a glimpse into the relationships that he shared with his teammates and friends brought me no surprise. Countless NHL superstars described the friend and teammate that was Jimmy Hayes. An infectious smile and laugh, a sincerity only felt when someone is truly engaging with you. They described the same guy I got to know. Surreal, to say the least. 

I’m heartbroken for his family. I’m heartbroken for his friends and teammates. I’m hopeful the memories that live on with them can bring happiness in due time. I cannot speak for everyone, but I think I do when I say that Jimmy left a lasting impression on the folks lucky enough to spend even a little bit of time with him. Our time here is fleeting. In bereavement, there is reflection.

We don’t need to have won national championships or have laced them up side by side with Hall of Famers to be remembered fondly. It’s what made Jimmy Hayes a good man, so well remembered. We can treat people kindly, spread positivity, and try and make people laugh. That’s what Jimmy did. That’s the good stuff. The stuff we should strive to be remembered for. We can’t all be professional hockey players, but we can all be like Jimmy. Or at least try.