Every day, Jimmy Hayes puts on his hockey pads, laces up his skates, and dons his country's hockey jersey. As a member of the under-18 team at the National Team Development Program, Hayes is one of a select few that get to play day in and day out for the good old U.S. of A. But the forward still hasn't forgotten about Dorchester, the place he grew up playing on ice.
"I think Dorchester hockey was a huge influence, just to have a chance to play and stuff," he said recently, remembering his time playing for Dorchester Youth Hockey and on a traveling team in the Metropolitan Boston Hockey League. "[Massachusetts was] definitely one of the bigger hockey states, being from Massachusetts has also helped, being able to compete against some of the best in the country."
When Hayes first started skating, it was his grandfather pushing him along.
"I started skating when I was like two in Charlestown with my grandfather and with my neighbor, Timmy Berardinelli," Hayes recalled. "There was a lot of hockey on my mom's side."
Some of that hockey blood comes from his second cousin Tom Fitzgerald, who played seventeen seasons in the National Hockey League, finishing his career with his hometown Boston Bruins. For Hayes, having experience like that in his family was invaluable in getting him where he is today -Ann Arbor, Michigan, with some of the best young talent in the country.
"It's a program where they invite twenty-two kids on each team to come play," Hayes said. He has been out there for two years, both times on the programs under-eighteen club -they also run an under-seventeen team. "We are traveling every weekend, and we just go to regular high school in the week."
But it is a bit more than just playing hockey. The team plays close to fifty games a season against top colleges, programs in the country and teams on the international scene.
"I like to play just because I like the whole competitive nature that you get to play every day," he said. "And anytime you get to play for your country every weekend, not many guys that kind of chance."
The program has created some special memories for the 6-foot, 3-inch, 205 pound forward.
"Last year my team we went to Finland and World Under-eighteens, we lost in the finals, six to five, but to be considered one of the top in the world was special," he says. He also holds another loss from his past pretty close. "The moment I remember was my squirt A's, and we went to the state tournament and ended up losing in state semi-finals, but it was maybe the first Dorchester team to get that far."
Next year Hayes will be attending Boston College to play for one of the best college teams in the country and a future Hall of Fame coach in the Eagles' Jerry York.
"I am just looking forward to being part of that hockey team, to be part of that team and that program is huge," Hayes said, but he was also quick to say it's about more than hockey at Chestnut Hill. "I chose BC just because both the education and hockey wise, it would be the best It was more the school than hockey."
After BC the sky seems to be the limit for Hayes, some NHL experts and scouts have him being drafted high in this spring's NHL lottery. He says he models himself after another New England star, forward Keith Tkachuk, an all-star out of Boston University. At this point in his career it looks as if he will play professional, but there are so many ifs in hockey, no one can say for sure. He tries not to think about it, though he acknowledged he can't easily escape it.
"Sometimes it's hard to, but it does put some unnecessary pressure on things. There are a lot of high end players here [in Ann Arbor]," he said, though always remaining wary. "Yeah, I'm predicted to get drafted, but that could change."