Monday, August 10, 2009

Bigger Hayes ready for Whalers' season

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

The Plymouth Whalers haven’t played a shift in the 2009-10 Ontario Hockey League season, but veteran Ryan Hayes is one of the busiest Whalers in town.

Currently working the Plymouth Whalers Hockey Schools, Hayes worked six of Plymouth’s previous seven player appearances this summer since returning from Syracuse, N.Y.

Hayes – who turned 20 in June – is happy in Plymouth. When Whalers head coach-GM Mike Vellucci decided to trade right wing Kaine Geldart to his hometown of Kingston, he named Hayes, Joe Gaynor and Leo Jenner as his overage players for the year.

If you are new to the OHL, teams can play just three 20-year-olds or overage players (1989 birthdays this season). Many teams go into the season with a surplus of overagers and trade them later on. It can become a stressful time for everyone involved.

Hayes, Gaynor, and Jenner represent a strong overage class. They all bring positive traits to the rink, both on and off the ice.

“It’s sad to see Kaine go, but we needed to cut down (to three overages),” Hayes said. “I’m happy with the choice, obviously. Joe’s great at both ends of the ice – he can play on special teams, both on power play and penalty kill. Leo is a terrific defenseman – he’s very strong back there and will fight anyone for his teammates. I’m just happy to play the role that I’ve been given here on the team. Hopefully, I can score some goals for the team this year.”

Hayes joined the Whalers around the 2008 trading deadline and scored 26 goals with 19 assists for 45 points in 55 games last season, his first full year in Plymouth. Although Hayes is known as a goal-scorer, he also recorded a +12 rating.

He is looking forward to a good season in 2009-10.

“I just want to keep going and building as a hockey player.” Hayes said. “Most of all, it looks like we have a good team coming back. I’d like to see our team do really well and start better than we did last year.”

Plymouth stumbled out of the gates at the beginning of last season, going 6-11-2-0 through mid--November before righting things when Vellucci went back behind the bench to finish 37-26-5-0. After eliminating Sarnia in five games in the first round of the OHL playoffs, the Whalers took the eventual OHL champion Windsor Spitfires to six games before bowing out in the Western Conference semi-finals.

“The rough start was actually good for us, in a way,” Hayes said. “We all came together as a team. We started to build (some momentum) and started to win some games. Even though we lost to Windsor, we gave it a good shot. I think Windsor was a team that we had a chance to beat and a few bounces the other way, you never know.”

Hayes looks bigger and stronger this summer.

“I’ve been focusing on the gym this summer and trying to get stronger off the ice, which will help me on the ice – so I’m not getting knocked off the puck,” Hayes said. “I’m trying to get my legs stronger, so my first few strides are more explosive and a little better.”

In spite of his size, Hayes battles in traffic areas for the puck as well as anyone in the league. He scores goals in the dirty areas of the ice – in front of the net, usually battling against bigger defensemen.

Hayes was asked about his success in front of the net.

“I just can’t stand losing,” Hayes explained. “I want to do whatever I can towards winning the game. If I have to go out there and fight the biggest guy, then that’s something that I have to do. I’d rather score goals, but you have to do whatever you can to make the team successful.”

Hayes is a creative goal scorer. He’ll bank the puck off goaltenders, score from impossible angles, and has a deft touch in handling the puck.

For Hayes, practice often means a goal in a game in a fun and creative way.

“It’s something I work on in practice,” Hayes said of his goal-scoring. “It’s just fun to mess around and shoot around and see what you can pull off. So I try them in games and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.”

Hayes started last season on a line with Tyler Seguin, who rates a good chance to go high in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

“I got a chance to play with Tyler when he was just starting out at the beginning,” Hayes said. “I could tell then he had a lot of talent. He got a great chance to play with Chris Terry and Matt Caria toward the end of the year and that line just exploded for goals.

“He’s a very talented young player and I think he’s going to have a bright future in the National Hockey League some day. He’s very fast, can score and is good in his own zone. It’s said he’s not very good in his defensive zone, but I think if he works hard enough, he’s got the gift in his hands. He’s a very talented player.”

Although Terry has moved on to professional hockey, he had a noticeable effect on Hayes as the two became good friends. In fact, Hayes has moved in to Terry’s former billet house this season - Steve and Suzanne Kowalkoski.

Because of his service to the community, Terry won the OHL’s Dan Snyder Memorial Award. Hayes has followed the example of his friend and has embraced community service with enthusiasm.

“Chris has shown me a lot about (the effect) of the appearances and dealing with the kids,” Hayes said. “He was great with it and he obviously deserved to win the OHL’s Dan Snyder Award for Humanitarian Service. He left a mark on all of us. A lot of the older guys that are coming back – Joe Gaynor, among others, who played with Chris for four years – all respect what he did and how he acted with the kids off the ice.”

Hayes’ hockey career is unusual, in that he’s one of the few players who have skated for the National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, played college hockey for Boston College, and now plays in the OHL.

He compares the three levels.

“The USA team was great for me, because I met a lot of good friends and still have a lot of good connections,” Hayes said. “It’s like a family, because you’re with the same team and same family for two years. You see the same guys every day and they become your brothers, which is good for development. The NTDP was great for my strength, which I think I needed at the time.

“Then going off to college was a little different for me. Guys were older and I didn’t get a chance (to play). I came here and started to get more ice time and more of a chance to play, so I feel like I’m in a better position here and I’m really excited about this year.

“A lot of people look down at the OHL and say that guys don’t get a chance to go to school, but I’m pretty sure 100 percent of the guys here go to school and take classes throughout the whole year. I don’t see where the downfall is. The schooling is there for me, so I’m happy with my decision.”

Hayes is optimistic about 2009-10.

“I just want the best for our team right now,” he said. “I think if the team does well, then guys on our team are doing well. I’d love to win a championship this year, but it’s going to be tough. A lot of teams are trying to load up, but if you’ve got the heart and desire and are ready to battle every night, then we can take it home.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch


No comments: