Television newsman Mark Hayes knew one thing about hockey when his son, Malcolm, first laced on a pair of skates: That he didn’t know anything about hockey.
“Malcolm was invited to a birthday party when we lived in Detroit and they said ‘Bring your hockey bag.’ He was four or five at the time and we didn’t have a hockey bag. So his mother instructed me to go to the sporting goods store and find out what goes in a hockey bag and fill one up for him,” Mark Hayes told me recently. “The rest is kind of history.”
Today, Malcolm Hayes, 19, is a freshman left wing on the University of Maine Black Bears hockey team. Mark Hayes is a morning news anchor for WLWT television in Cincinnati and a former Howard University football player.
He and his wife, Latonya, have taken the journey that more and more minority parents are finding themselves on, guiding their children through a sport that they were rarely exposed to as kids growing up or seldom watched as adults.
“I had no clue because I had no clue about what it took to be really good at it,” Mark Hayes said of hockey. “I knew what it took to be really good at football. Hockey, it’s a different sacrifice. People really don’t understand what it takes to get to that Division I hockey level.”
Popeye Jones knows how Hayes felt. Jones, who was a forward for six National Basketball Association teams over 11 seasons, wasn’t quite sure what to do when his sons, including Seth, became serious about hockey.
Playing for the NBA Denver Nuggets at the time, the 6-foot-8 Popeye approached 5-foot-11 Joe Sakic, the great Colorado Avalanche center, one day for advice.
“He said ‘You’ve got to make sure they know how to skate,'” Popeye, now an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers, told me recently. “He said ‘They’ll be coordinated and, looking at you, they’re going to be big. Make sure they can skate.'”
Popeye followed Sakic’s advice. Today, Seth Jones is a smooth-skating – and tall – defenseman for the Nashville Predators.
“When you see what your kids are passionate about, you’ve got to let them do it,” Popeye said. “Then your job becomes, if you don’t know anything about hockey, to start watching, start learning about the game. You’ll love it if you start learning about it.”
The Hayes family quickly learned and went all-in on a team sport that perhaps requires more from families in terms of time, travel, expense and support than football, baseball or basketball.
“My dad and my mom were definitely my biggest fans growing up,” Malcolm Hayes told me. “They were always trying to help me be a better hockey player. Even when I was playing both hockey and football, it wasn’t like he (Mark Hayes) was pushing me to practice football more.”
That said, Malcolm conceded that mom and dad initially thought hockey “was going to be like a little phase and I would eventually start playing football or basketball or baseball…I really didn’t like any of those sports.”
Moving to Atlanta and playing football in the sunny South only cemented Malcolm’s desire to become a hockey player.
“Football wasn’t as fun because it was too hot there,” he said. “I would just go to the rink and have a blast. I enjoyed it more than football.”
As Malcolm’s love for hockey grew, so did Mark’s. But sometimes the father felt frustration from being unable to coach or share tips with his youngest son.
Mark’s oldest son, Kenny Hayes, followed in his father’s cleats and was a wide receiver for Howard University’s Bisons. He graduated in 2011.
“It was easy for me to say ‘Hey, try this,’ or ‘Hey, do this,’ or ‘Hey, this is what worked for me.’ I couldn’t do that with Malcolm,” Mark Hayes said. “All I could do is record games on our VCR or DVR and say ‘Hey, check this out. This is how the pros do it.’ I think the most frustrating thing was not being able to help him.”
His frustration eased when he learned one valuable lesson by watching Malcolm practice and play: It takes a village – and some serious extra coaching – to build a good hockey player.
“I started paying attention to what the other families were doing at the rinks,” Mark Hayes recalled. “They were doing private lessons. I grew up playing football, basketball and lacrosse. I didn’t know you had someone to work with your son on just skills or just skating.”
For eight years in Atlanta, the family had former New York Islanders left wing Yan Kaminsky work as Malcolm’s skating coach and Scott Pearson, a 1988 Toronto Maple Leafs first-round draft pick, as his skills coach.
“My wife would get up at 6 a.m., they’d be at the rink at 6:30 a.m., and back in the car at 7:40 a.m. on their way to school,” Mark Hayes said. “He’d get a nice little hour skate in twice a week then go to regular practices in the evenings.”
The extra practice paid off. Malcolm went on to play hockey at Cushing Academy, a Massachusetts prep school that’s produced several National Hockey League players including Arizona Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian, and Boston Bruins defensive prospect David Warsofsky.
“Malcolm has a ton of potential and has a high ceiling for improvement as he is physically far ahead of other players his age,” Cushing Head Coach Rob Gagnon told SBNation’s College Hockey blog last year. “He is big, strong and fast. He is very physical in the corners and in front of the net.”
After one season at Cushing, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Hayes accepted a scholarship at Maine.”Malcolm Hayes provides our team tremendous size, explosive power, and a significant offensive upside,” Black Bears Head Coach Red Gendron said in July.
Gendron was so high on Hayes’s offensive skills that he moved the freshman from the blue line to left wing earlier this season. He tallied four goals, two assists, and 34 penalty minutes in 29 regular season games for the Hockey East’s Black Bears.
“Overall, I think my year went pretty well,” he told me. “I definitely had my struggles being my first year, and getting acclimated to playing forward at a high level in Hockey East.”