After announcing his retirement from professional hockey at the age of 29, La Crescent High School hockey standout Eriah Hayes has begun the next chapter of his life in the area where it all began.
Hayes, a former right winger for the San Jose Sharks, announced his retirement from the sport of hockey through a heartfelt post via his Facebook and Twitter accounts earlier this month. The decision came after Hayes missed all of last season to recover from injuries sustained in the previous season, which included two separate skull fractures.
Some teams expressed interest in Hayes in the off-season, but he also got feedback from other organizations worried about his past injuries. Always one of the bigger guys on the ice, Hayes never shied away from physical play, including dropping his gloves to fight, which may have played into the shortening of his professional career.
“My body has taken its fair share of beatings, that’s for sure.” said Hayes, at his 120-acre farm in La Crescent that he shares with his wife, Katie, and daughter that was born in June, Poppy. They currently lease some of the land, including an apple orchard, but next year are considering taking over the orchard themselves.
“The feedback I got was pretty much that maybe I should think twice about coming back,” said Hayes. “They looked through my medical records, and were pretty hesitant after what they saw. So that helped me make my decision. And obviously with my wife, and my daughter now — that made things a little easier too.”
Hayes remains the all-time leading scorer out of the Coulee Region, and went deeper into the professional ranks than anybody before him. In his two-season tenure with the Sharks, Hayes played in 19 games, and scored his first and only NHL goal in a 4-1 defeat Calgary on Jan. 30, 2014. Playing for the Worcester Sharks and the Chicago Wolves from 2012-2016, Hayes played in 164 games and scored 29 goals.
Hayes said that giving up the sport he’s felt connected to for as long as he can remember was difficult, but starting his family has shown him there are parts of life that can be much more rewarding than hockey could ever be. Also the fact that he did indeed make it to the top, and even scored an NHL goal, made it an easier pill to swallow.
“My wife always reassured me, that hey, you made it — you achieved your childhood dream. So knowing that kinda made things a little easier, although I don’t know if there was anything easy about it.”