By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
Around the small, southeastern-Minnesota town of La Crescent, it’s been a pretty big deal over the last four years that its own Eriah Hayes was playing Division I hockey.
Now, folks there are thinking about the National Hockey League.
Hayes, who recently wrapped up a stellar career at Minnesota State, agreed to a two-year contract with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks this week. He leaves today for Worcester, Mass., where he will finish this season with the Sharks’ American Hockey League affiliate.
“Basically, hard work pays off,” Hayes said on Friday. “You just gotta keep after it.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound right wing led the Mavericks with 20 goals this past season and was second with 36 points. His 13 goals on the power play ranked second in the country, and he led the nation with 185 shots on goal.
“The word for it is consistency,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said. “Physically and mentally, he worked to bring the right mindset to the rink every day, and his game came along with his mentality.”
Hayes finished his college career second on MSU’s all-time games-played list with 153 and tied for 10th on its Division I-era scoring list with 96 points. But his best season was his last when he was named third-team All-WCHA. The co-captain led the Mavericks to a 24-win season and their first trips to the WCHA Final Five and NCAA tournament since 2002-03.
“I didn’t think about (signing a pro contract) too much this season,” Hayes said. “I had my mind on the guys on the team as a whole. I didn’t think about it much until the season ended.”
Hayes, 24, was not drafted as an 18- to 20-year-old, so he was a free agent. Terms were not disclosed for his deal, which begins next season (his contract with Worcester is an amateur tryout deal for the remainder of the year), however, because of his age it will not be entry-level pay.
“He earned it,” Hastings said.
Hayes said three NHL teams were vying for his services when Minnesota State’s season ended.
“(San Jose) was the best fit,” he said. “That’s where I felt the most confident. It’s a great organization. I’m really happy to have picked them.”
Worcester has nine games remaining in the regular season, starting today.