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Hayes ready to play major role in Flyers’ return to action

Kevin Hayes is one of the key veteran players for the Philadelphia Flyers and his presence on and off the ice will be key over the next week or so.

Hayes is one of several Flyers players who returned to practice on Tuesday in Voorhees, 10 days after last playing in a competitive game. COVID-19 had stricken the team’s roster, forcing several offensive talents to wait on the sidelines for the green light to return.

Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Oskar Lindblom are just a few of the players who will likely miss Thursday’s return to action against the New York Rangers. Hayes’ impact on the ice has been crucial in his time in Philadelphia, but his role off of it might be just as important as the team tries to gear up for a return to play.

“It’s been tough for everyone,” Hayes said Tuesday. “Everyone in this organization wants to play hockey, it’s what we get paid to do. Obviously safety comes first and we had some positive cases. The way the organization handled it was unreal. Even though we missed games, you’ve got to follow the rules and you’ve got to make sure everyone’s safe. It’s been a bit of a weird week, we haven’t really been allowed here. Today we were allowed on the ice and it feels good to be back out there.”

“It shouldn’t be difficult to be competitive,” he said about Thursday’s showdown with his former team [New York Rangers]. It’s just the next-man-up mentality. We’re obviously down some important players, but I think everyone’s going to compete whether you’re a regular in this lineup or you just got called up and you’re playing your first game. There’s no questions asked whether you’re supposed to compete or not. Everyone in this locker room’s going to compete their hardest and give it their all. I think we’ll be fine.”

Hayes has continued to be one of the stars for the Flyers’ offensive corps, recording six goals and five assists for 11 points so far. The veteran forward has also remained key on the Flyers special teams units, featuring on the power play and penalty kill during the opening 13 games of the season.

The 28-year-old has always been a class act on and off the ice no matter where he’s been and he also is the player to liven up any moment for the team. With several minor league players making the jump to the Flyers roster this week and several veterans sitting at home waiting to come back, Hayes has tried to keep spirits high in the midst of a competitive part of the schedule.

“It’s definitely scary, but I try to make them laugh about it a little bit,” Hayes said about helping his teammates. “There’s nothing funny about covid obviously, but I just tried to Facetime [Claude Giroux] and [Justin Braun] when they were stuck in Washington, try to make them laugh a little bit. Everyone that has covid right now is handling it that way and symptoms aren’t too bad, so hopefully that keeps up.”

“It’s tough to keep the mood light when guys aren’t allowed to come to the rink and do their job they’ve been doing for years now. But the group chat’s still firing away, we’re still chatting and stuff. But it’s definitely different. It’s a different season, but every team’s going through it, we’re all battling through it, we’re all taking the right protocols. Ultimately we have to do everything in our power to get back on the ice and provide entertainment for our fans and the people watching, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Taxi squad players David Kase, Maksim Sushko, Andy Andreoff, and Derrick Pouliot all joined the group on Tuesday for practice and all are likely to feature on Thursday night. While many of them have only practiced with the team for a limited amount of time this season, they will all likely receive a warm welcome from Hayes when the bright lights return to the Wells Fargo Center this week.

“You’ve got to try to make them feel as comfortable as possible when they’re here,” Hayes said. “David [Kase] was here last year, so he knows the guys. [Maksim] Sushko, I just met him.  It’s tough when you have so many restrictions, you’re not allowed to take them to dinner or whatever. But everyone’s so welcoming. I’ve never been on a team, whether it’s Philly, New York or Winnipeg, where new guys show up and you don’t welcome them. Hockey’s a very welcoming sport and we do everything in our power to make sure everyone feels safe and happy and in their best spirits so they can provide their best efforts.”

You can follow Larry Henry on Twitter (@lhenry019) and e-mail him at [email protected].

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