This past Saturday night, two former Boston College hockey players met on the ice in an Atlantic Division NHL matchup; Brian Boyle of the Tampa Bay Lightning squared up against Jimmy Hayes of the Boston Bruins. They were competitors from puck drop to the final whistle, and yet, they were united by a number on their backs.
Some athletes choose their number based on a favorite player they had as a child or a number they've worn their entire lives. Many see an athlete's number as an incidental matter, merely be an identifier on the ice; however, the reason behind Boyle and Hayes' decision is one that is near and dear to their hearts, something which holds meaning that many don't realize. The former BC standouts both wear the number 11. This is no coincidence, but rather a way to honor a late friend of theirs.
People rarely think of athletes--especially professional athletes--as human. We oftentimes forget that they have lives outside of the game and that before we knew them as a player, someone else knew them as a friend, a brother or son.
The story behind Boyle and Hayes' number selection brings them down to earth and allows us to see them as they are--people.
Boyle met Corey Griffin when the two were growing up in Hingham, MA; they became very close over the years and eventually overlapped for a year at Boston College. Hayes also knew Griffin from a young age, hailing from Dorchester, a few towns over, meaning they frequently came across each other on the ice.
Both Boyle and Griffin came to Boston College to play under coach Jerry York; Boyle was a senior when Griffin was a freshman. (Hayes, however, just missed Boyle and Griffin when he came to play for BC). During their time on the Heights, they became friends with Pete Frates, the former BC baseball player and inspiration behind the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Griffin transferred to Babson College following his freshman year and became a Bain Capital LLC manager in Boston after graduation. When Frates was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, he became one of the driving figures of the campaign’s success, raising over $100,000 in a single day.
On that same day, tragedy struck, and a time of celebration became one of sadness.
While celebrating his accomplishment, Griffin partook in a Nantucket tradition: jumping into the harbor off the roof of a local ice cream joint. When he hit the water, however, he did not resurface for several minutes, and when he did, he almost immediately went back down. Griffin drowned in Nantucket Harbor; he was 27 when he died.
Throughout his entire NHL career, Boyle donned the number 22; when traded to the Lightning the summer following Griffin’s death, Boyle decided that he was going to honor his friend by changing his number to the one his best friend wore for years, number 11.
“I’ve never really felt too attached to a number, but this one is for sure something that is special to me. Hopefully it’s special to his family. Hopefully I get to wear it a long time and honor my friend,” said Boyle in a video on sports net.com.
Hayes bounced around between numbers before settling on the 12 he wore with the Florida Panthers over the past two years. After being traded to the Bruins this summer, the opportunity presented itself and Hayes jumped at the chance to pay his own tribute.
The two professionals just missed each other at BC, Boyle graduating in 2007 and Hayes enrolling in 2008. However, they were united by a friend they both grew up with, and they continue to honor him by wearing his number on their backs.
It is a touching tribute to their friend who gave so much of himself to others, and it's a small way for two Boston boys to keep Corey Griffin's memory alive.
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