Hockey icon a pioneer for generations of girls

Since 1987, the month of March has been set aside to celebrate the contributions of women in history, culture and society. Locally, Kelly Dyer Hayes certainly stands out as a woman of achievement, who helped pioneer the evolution of hockey for girls and women as a goalie.

Longtime Marblehead resident and ice hockey pioneer Kelly Dyer Hayes is shown with USA Hockey President Walter Bush and President of Hockey Canada Murray Costello at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, where Dyer Hayes served as the game day operations manager for men’s and women’s ice hockey.

Dyer Hayes never thought of herself as a pioneer while growing up in Acton. She just naturally fit in well on the ice.

“I didn’t really see any restrictions; I’m sure there were some, but I never paused long enough to see them,” she said. “I actually started off as a figure skater, but then as Bobby Orr was lighting things up with the Boston Bruins, every kid on all the side streets wanted to be him.”

Dyer, too, wanted to be Orr, at least until she decided she would much rather be like Bruins’ goalie Gerry Cheevers.

“But the goalie I actually looked up to the most was Ken Dryden of the Montréal Canadiens,” she explained.

After getting her start in youth hockey, Dyer Hayes participated in track, soccer and softball — in addition to hockey — at Acton-Boxborough High School, before spending a year at the New Hampton School, where she played three sports: soccer, lacrosse and hockey. She ended up in the Hall of Fame at both schools.

It was then time for college, and her choice was Northeastern University, where she helped lead the Huskies in goal, starting in 1986.

Born to be a Husky

Dyer Hayes had been considering the University of New Hampshire and the Rochester Institute of Technology, but once she toured Northeastern, there was never a question where Dyer Hayes would attend college.

“Once I walked into Matthews Arena, I knew that’s where I wanted to play, and of course they had tremendous academics and the co-op program,” she said. “Their uniforms also had the best colors — black and red.”

The games were fierce. UNH, Providence College and Northeastern University had the best women’s hockey programs around back then, while the Ivy League teams were up and coming, according to Dyer Hayes.

“It was fun to see the other teams’ growth and development in such a short amount of time,” she added.

The Huskies had never won an ECAC (the precursor to the NCAA tournament) championship before she got to the Huntington Avenue campus. But that all changed during her junior and senior years, when they won back-to-back to titles.

“We had very strong teams,” Dyer Hayes recalled. “In my senior year, I was one of seven seniors that united the rest of the team from Day 1. We then stayed connected through to the end.”

She had a career 2.04 goals-against average at Northeastern and was the team MVP her final two seasons. The Huskies went 48-3-1 during those two years.  

Dyer Hayes was a three-sport athlete at Northeastern, also playing soccer and lacrosse. Besides winning the ECAC Tournament twice, she was also a Beanpot champion four times, assistant team captain and MVP.

After graduating in 1990, she became the team’s goalie coach from 1990-1993 and was later inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. She was also named to the Northeastern University’s Celebration of Women in Sports all-time Title IX team.

Family affair

Dyer Hayes credits her brother David for her involvement in hockey.

“We’d be in the same arena at the same time,” she said. “He was playing hockey, and I was a figure skater. When I wasn’t on the ice, I’d go over to the other side of the arena and watch him play hockey, and it seemed a lot more exciting than my figure skating lessons.”

Longtime Marblehead resident and ice hockey pioneer Kelly Dyer Hayes, first row, third from right, is shown with the Marblehead Wolfpack, the town’s cold-water dip team, before making a splash in the Atlantic on a recent winter day. COURTESY PHOTO

Still, Dyer Hayes had to ask for almost two years if she could play ice hockey until her father finally found a girls program in Concord, the next town over.

“Playing sports was as natural as breathing back then; whatever was being played, I just jumped in and played it,” she added.

She was always supported by family — her parents, Joan and Richard, now living in the Washington, D.C. area; and older brother, David, who today lives in Dover, New Hampshire. Kelly married her husband, Christopher Hayes, in 2005, and their daughter Elizabeth was born three years later.

After her stint at Northeastern as a player and while working at the school as a coach, she played on the Team USA Women’s National Team from 1990 to 1996. In her first season on the national team, she was team MVP. She also earned the goaltender’s award.

From 1993 to 1995, Dyer Hayes played professionally in the Sunshine Hockey League for the West Palm Beach Blaze. She was only the third female hockey player to play men’s professional hockey. The Blaze won the league title all three years she was there.

Not the retiring type

Dyer Hayes moved to Marblehead from Louisville in 1997, just before heading off to the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, where she worked for USA Hockey as an athlete representative for women’s ice hockey.

While in Kentucky, Dyer Hayes had been working in the corporate headquarters of Louisville Hockey, a division of Louisville Slugger, as a product manager to advance its hockey division, while also creating a line of women’s ice hockey equipment. They sponsored her when she was a player.

“It was a great experience, but I was excited to get back to New England,” she added.

But she also continued to work with Louisville Hockey until 2010.

In 2002 at the Salt Lake City Olympics, Dyer Hayes was USA Hockey’s game day operations manager for both the men’s and women’s ice hockey squads.

It is always difficult to give everything up, but sooner or later it happens to every player. For Dyer

Hayes, that did not happen until after completing her pro career.

“Retirement was not that hard — I simply knew it was time,” she said. “I had a wonderful career and had so many opportunities to play in so many different places. I felt satisfied with all my accomplishments. I was involved in hockey on many levels, from representing athletes to being on the executive committee of USA Hockey to running an all-girls goalie school with Joe Bertagna to coaching goalies at various schools. I also sold hockey equipment with a specialty in goalie gear.”

She is also involved in the Women’s Sports Foundation, where she is a representative for the sport of ice hockey.

Dyer Hayes is currently trying to decide what her life’s next great adventure might be. But if her history is any indication, she is sure to find success.

Joe McConnell | + posts

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