Jimmy Hayes circles around and around on the ice. The game slows down for him as he watches. Nick Petrecki slides the puck to Carl Sneep, and then, suddenly, Hayes has it. He spins around, and it's just him and the goal. The rink goes silent; this is his shot. He takes a big stroke, and the puck hits the goalpost. There is confusion, congestion in front of the goal; the sound begins to filter in again as Hayes wonders, Did it go in?
The horn blares. The lights flash. Hayes has his first career collegiate goal. That puck, bestowed upon him by team captain Brock Bradford in a private post-game ceremony following an early-season win against Merrimack, now resides in Hayes's locker. It serves as a reminder of who he has been, who he will become, and, most importantly, who he is now: a freshman forward for the Boston College Eagles who just last Saturday scored a hat trick (and one assist) against New Hampshire, always a tough BC foe.
Hayes, who grew up in Neponset, has strong hockey credentials. His second cousin, Tom Fitzgerald, played 17 seasons in the NHL, including a stint with the Bruins.
Hayes's own road to BC's Kelley Rink began just blocks from his house. He fondly remembers his youth hockey days, spent in the confines of Devine Rink in Neponset. Each and every Sunday, he'd hit the ice for power skating sessions with professional wing Paul Vincent.
"It's pretty cool that I worked with Paul at such a young age," Hayes said. "To this day, I still work with him from time to time."
The budding star grew accustomed to working hard to get results, even as a kid - and he got his first shot at the big-time when his youth team competed for a state championship under the tutelage of head coach Mike Munichello.
"[Coach Munichello] was always pushing me to work hard. He helped me develop a work ethic that I still carry today," Hayes said.
That team may have lost in the state semi-finals, but Hayes didn't; all that experience as a kid has added up, helping him develop as an offensive powerhouse at Chestnut Hill.
"Being at a place like Boston College is a thrill," Hayes said, "and being close to home is a huge bonus, especially for my parents. My mom and dad used to have to fly around the entire [country] - and sometimes the world - to watch me play. Now, they only have to drive a couple of miles."
In high school, at the Nobles and Greenough School, he honed his skills as a freshman and sophomore, preparing himself for a greater challenge: the Under-18 National Team in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"I knew [going to Ann Arbor] would help me develop my game," Hayes said. "I could work on my skills every day with some of the best players in the country. It was a big jump and a great move for me."
Before he was ready to compete with the rest of the best, though, Hayes had to deal with one slight issue: he needed to learn to let his height help him instead of hinder him. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Hayes's build is more suited to taking snaps on the gridiron than gliding around on skates with the utmost agility.
"I was always a pretty big guy," Hayes said, "and for a while, I could get away with just skill. But when I started playing against guys my size, but bigger and stronger, I had to learn to use my size to my advantage."
First and foremost, that meant learning to finish his checks. It meant making himself so physically and fundamentally intimidating that when the other teams' defensemen saw him coming, anxiety would force them into premature mistakes. It meant gaining a psychological advantage as well as a visceral one.
Hayes did that. He was ready to move on.
While he played for the developmental program in Ann Arbor, he attended a public high school, where he wrapped up his credits a semester early so he could spend six months playing for US Hockey League's Lincoln Stars in Nebraska. Over those six months, he garnered attention from schools like BC, Boston University, and New Hampshire, but Hayes always had a feeling he would end up in maroon and gold.
"What made me decide to go to BC was its academics compared to the other two schools," Hayes said, "and I thought it was better, hockey-wise. It's a winning team, and a winning culture, and I wanted to be a part of the great tradition."
That tradition is part of what helped the Eagles reel in the national championship last year, their first since 2001. While his future teammates were winning their rings, Hayes was watching in Nebraska, confident even then that BC would pull off the victory against Notre Dame.
"I was at my buddy's house, and we all had to pick [the winner]," he recalls, "and I was the only one who picked BC. It was big-time bragging rights for me. Coming into a team that has a national championship under its belt - having that mark on you is pretty cool. It was a thrill to just be like, someday I might have a chance to be playing in that game."
At a place like BC, that chance is more like a reality. Eagles head coach Jerry York has led his Eagles to the Frozen Four championship game in each of the past three seasons, a statistic Hayes has not overlooked. He knows he is lucky to be studying under the Confucius of college hockey.
"[York] builds his team around the type of person he is: He likes guys that have tons of character, love to play, and respect the game," Hayes said, noting similarities to another great sage in the coaching world: the former leader of baseball's Evil Empire, Joe Torre. "He likes us to be clean-shaven, short hair - he's just that type of guy."
York is also the type of guy who is far from content to rest on one national championship. He is hungry for more, and he has ingrained that mentality in his players.
"There is no satisfaction [in the locker room]," Hayes said. "That's what helps a team win. You can't get caught up in just winning once; you have to turn the page and move on and now the team is looking forward to this year."
And what does Hayes want this year? Easy: another ring. He wants to win the Beanpot, win the Hockey East, win another championship, and watch next October as another national championship banner is raised to the rafters of Kelley Rink, suspended in immortality.
The young forward has already gotten quite a taste of what it's like to play for a big-name program with big-time aspirations. He's skated through a win against Wisconsin and a loss in a national championship rematch against the Fighting Irish. He's been through the grueling daily practices and team meetings. He's learning from the best of the best - Brock Bradford, Andrew Orpik, Kyle Kucharski - about what it takes to succeed at this level. And he's not intimidated.
"I just try to play like I've always played," Hayes said with a shrug.
Jessica Isner is the sports editor at The Heights, the independent student newspaper at Boston College.