Chris Hayes was a goal scorer when he played for the Pembroke Ironmen. That was in the early 1960’s when the traditional Lumber Kings name was abandoned for a few years by new owners, the Izen family who operated a steel business in what was still the town of Pembroke. It was also at a time when senior hockey was coming to an end in Pembroke, and the junior team was drawing huge crowds as it pursued a championship in the newly formed Central Junior Hockey League.
Fast forward some sixty years and Hayes now finds himself in the same building that he cut his teeth as a junior hockey player, the Pembroke Memorial Centre, but now he’s a spectator watching his Grandson, Maverick Hayes, suit up for the current day Lumber Kings. The old rink is now 72 years old but it hasn’t changed much from when the elder Hayes played there, however the game has certainly evolved.
Gone is the rough and tumble hockey that Chris Hayes was part of, replaced by speed and skill. Punishing body checks don’t happen as frequently as they once did, but there is one defenceman on the Lumber Kings who stands out as a heavy hitter and is a throwback to the way the game used to be played. At 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighing about 185 pounds, Maverick Hayes plays hard, loves the physicality of the game and is now following the path of his Grand Dad with aspirations to play major junior hockey.
The younger Hayes was picked last spring in the first round of the OHL’s priority selection draft by the Sudbury Wolves. As the eighth overall pick, the Wolves are giving Maverick more time to play at the Junior A level where he has been a top four defenceman for the Kings all season. He got a taste of junior hockey last season when he was called up for nine games, but most of his time was spent playing at the U-18 or Junior B level.
Maverick is one of the youngest players on the Kings squad, having just turned 17 years of age in September. He still has a lot to learn, but he has demonstrated he can be a lockdown defenceman and is gradually picking his spots to join the rush. Sitting in a corner of the PMC, Chris Hayes likes it when Maverick carries the puck up the ice. No wonder, he played with one of the best.
Chris Hayes played only one season in Pembroke. When he was 17, he travelled to Southern Ontario to play with the Oshawa Generals and Bobby Orr who would go on to re-write the National Hockey League record books. “When you played with Orr, it didn’t matter if you had a hat trick in a game, Orr was still the first star,” quips Hayes.
The Generals were sponsored by the Boston Bruins, a team that was on the rise in the late 1960’s because of the insertion of Orr into their line-up. Many of the players that Hayes played with in Oshawa would move on to Boston and help the Bruins win a pair of Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972. It was a tough line-up to crack, and so when he was no longer eligible to play junior, Hayes chose to go to school, enrolling at Loyola college, the forerunner to Concordia University.
In Montreal, he was a star, captaining the Warriors and leading them to three Ottawa-St. Lawrence Athletic Association titles and three appearances in the national university championships. In one season, he had 26 goals and 80 points in only 34 games. When he was named to the school’s hall of fame in 2004, the university described him as a “hard hitting team captain” and a two-time All Canadian player who also was a strong academic student.
Having earned a Business Degree at Loyola, Hayes still had aspirations to become a professional hockey player. He was signed to a “C card,” which meant his only option was to make it as a Bruin, unless the team traded him. That wasn’t in the cards, so he joined Boston’s minor league teams in Oklahoma and Albuquerque, before joining the Boston Braves.
His professional career was mired by injuries and bad breaks, but Bruins coach Tom Johnson liked him and in the spring of 1972 he called Hayes up from the Oklahoma City Blazers to play in a playoff game against the St. Louis Blues. It was Hayes only game in the NHL but it would set him on a course to receive a Stanley Cup ring more than 45 years later, thanks to the persistent advocacy efforts of his friend Hector Clouthier.
“One day a box arrived at my home and it was a Stanley Cup ring from the Bruins. It’s been stuck on my finger ever since,” says Hayes.
Now, sitting in the stands watching his Grandson play for the Kings, Chris Hayes proudly wears his cup ring. The Bruins are celebrating their centennial season this year and recently the team brought back players from the 1971-72 Stanley Cup title squad where they were honoured in a pre-game ceremony at the Boston Garden. Hayes was invited but couldn’t make it for personal reasons, but he watched on television.
Seeing some of the players that he played with in Boston’s farm system like Wayne Cashman and Greg Sheppard took him back in time, an opportunity to reflect on his hockey career. “It was just a series of unfortunate events that I didn’t get to play more in the NHL,” says Hayes who perhaps at 77 years of age is more willing to talk about it now than when he was younger.
As for his Grandson, he likes the way he plays. “He makes a good first pass and plays his position well, but I would like to see him go up the ice more,” says Hayes. That’s been happening more as Maverick becomes more confident as a puck carrier, but his first junior A goal came from a familiar position, deep in his own end. On December 15th in Hawkesbury, he solidified a Kings win by firing a shot 180 feet into the centre of an empty net.
Earlier in the game, Maverick had delivered one of his trademark open ice hits that set the tone for a feisty affair between two long-time league rivals. With a short bench and playing with only four defencemen for the second game in a row, it motivated the Kings squad who snapped a five-game losing streak. That’s the type of player Maverick is, a great teammate and a quiet leader who works hard and sets an example for his teammates by putting forth his best effort every shift.
His Grandfather was a similar player, but he made his mark as a left winger with the Lumber Kings and Generals, before moving to centre at Loyola. Had he been affiliated with another NHL team he likely would have spent more time in the NHL, but he was overshadowed by players like Bobby Orr in a Bruins organization that was deep in talent. By the time he was 27 years of age, the injuries were piling up and Chris had decided to hang up his skates and return home where he landed a job in banking.
Over the years, he has thought a lot about his hockey career. He still has great memories from his playing days and on his right hand, his middle finger reminds him of all that he accomplished on the ice. It might have been only one game played with the Boston Bruins, but it’s one more game than most people play in the NHL and it earned Chris Hayes a Stanley Cup ring. That’s something to be proud of and a great inspiration for a young man who sees in his Grandfather all that he hopes to be as his junior hockey career gets started.
(Chris Hayes and his wife Diana have a home in Pembroke but spend a lot of time in Chapeau, Quebec at his family’s homestead. He attends many Lumber Kings games to cheer on his Grandson)