Rangers F Kevin Hayes motivated by tragedies

Kevin Hayes has four points, including two goals, for the Rangers this postseason. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. -- On the eve of the Eastern Conference finals, something other than hockey had the attention of New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes.

On Friday, in a Massachusetts courtroom, a jury sentenced 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for the crimes he committed in connection with the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Hayes paid close attention to the trial and was pleased with the final verdict.

“It’s a tough situation. It shouldn’t happen to anyone, but he got what he deserves,” Hayes said.

Many in Boston agree. For Hayes, the tragedy hit close to home.

When the two bombs exploded at the finish line on Boylston Street on April 15, 2013, they killed three people and injured 264. Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in a gunfight with authorities, constructed the bombs and left them in backpacks at the finish line.

One of the victims that day was 8-year-old Martin Richard, who lived in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. Hayes is a native of the same tight-knit community. He never met Martin, but the boy attended daycare where Hayes' mother works.

“I know his family. It was tough news,” Hayes said. “You don’t want something like that to bring a community together, but it happened, and Boston as a whole and Dorchester, especially, came together. It was pretty impressive. Their family knows they have the support, and I think they’re happy that the trial is over with.”

Hayes was a student at Boston College when the tragedy occurred. Since it was the Patriots’ Day holiday in Massachusetts, school was not in session.

“It was crazy,” Hayes said. “Obviously, you don’t want that to happen to anyone. It happens, and you go about your day, then you find out what happened in the next couple of days that it’s your neighbor, a young kid that loves sports. It’s a tragedy. It’s good for the family to know -- it’s never over with -- but to know [the trial] is done.”

After a four-year collegiate career at Boston College, Hayes, 23, made his NHL debut with the Rangers this season. At the start of the season, Hayes took a black Sharpie and wrote “Martin Richard” on his left skate, and it’s been on there all season.

Young Martin wasn’t the only family friend Hayes lost recently.

Last August, Corey Griffin died in a diving accident on Nantucket. He was 27. Griffin grew up in nearby Hingham and played hockey at Babson College. Griffin was also the co-founder of the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge,” and his work helped the fundraising efforts go viral.

On the day Hayes wrote Martin Richard’s name on his left skate, the NHL rookie also scribbled “Corey Griffin” on his right skate. Both names have faded a bit, but their memories are very much alive every time Hayes laces up his skates.

“They’re just people in my life that I think about before every game. I say a quick prayer. It was sad news,” he said.

After a recent morning skate at Madison Square Garden, Hayes sat at his locker with both skates hanging over his shoulder, almost as if two angels were hovering over him.

“It’s something that reminds me every time I put my skates on how lucky I am. I don’t take this for granted,” he said. “No one deserves that. I know how lucky I am, and just to pay any tribute to them is a little thing I can do. It’s just a nice reminder that the life I’m living right now is special. I’ll keep working hard, and it’s nice to know they’ll be in my corner if I need it.”

Not only are their names on his skates, Hayes also has the initials “MR” and “CG” stitched onto the cuff of his red-white-and-blue hockey gloves.

The Rangers are tied 1-1 with their Eastern Conference final opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, with Game 3 on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena. Faceoff is 8 p.m. ET.

It’s been an interesting season for Hayes. Originally selected by the Chicago in the first round (No. 24 overall) in the 2010 draft, Hayes never signed with the Blackhawks. Last August, he officially became an unrestricted free agent and then signed with the Rangers.

The talented forward made an impact during his first season in New York. In 79 regular-season games, Hayes scored 17 goals and added 28 assists for 45 points. He has two goals and two assists in 14 games this postseason. The entire time, he’s been motivated by something other than hockey -- Martin and Corey.

“It’s cool. It’s the NHL playoffs, but there are people going through a lot worse things,” Hayes said. “It just shows how close of a community Dorchester is, and this is a really close family friend that left us way too early.”

The Richard and Griffin families might not be aware that Hayes has had those names written on his skates and stitched into his gloves for the entire season.

“I’m not even sure if they know,” he said.

Martin and Corey do.