La Crescent native Eriah Hayes is having a standout season at Minnesota State- Mankato. His 12 power play goals are second in the country, and the Mavericks are on the verge of their first NCAA Tournament berth in a decade.
As Hayes is about to realize many of his dreams, he's inspiring youth hockey players back in his hometown.
Two weeks ago, 30 La Crescent Youth Hockey players made the trip to Mankato to see their hometown hero in action.
"It was a great opportunity and a great thrill for the kids. Not only to, I mean one, be at a division one hockey game, but not only to be there, but to see one of their own playing on the ice and playing at an extremely high level," La Crescent Youth Hockey President Mike Hackworth said.
"Pretty cool feeling for sure, just to see those kids looking up to you," Hayes said.
There's a reason the kids look up to Hayes. It's been a long journey for him to get where he is now. When the D-I offers weren't there out of La Crescent High School, he settled for two years of junior hockey.
"I remember driving down to Topeka, 8 hour drive, wondering, I didn't know one person on the team. I didn't know where I was going, what I was getting myself into," Hayes said. "I really didn't have a choice. I guess. Otherwise, I probably would have just hung 'em up."
After two years of Junior Hockey, Hayes got the call he was waiting for: a chance to play Division One hockey.
"It was a pretty proud moment for me. I remember calling my parents. I called them, let them know, they couldn't have been prouder. It was just a great feeling to make my parents proud, make myself proud."
"To tell you the truth, I've got an 11 year old boy and a 13 year old daughter, and if my kids can grow up to be half of what Eriah Hayes stands for, both on and off the rink, as a man, as a person, and understands, gets it, that you've gotta give back for what you've been given, those types of things, I'm going to be a very proud parent," MSU Head Coach Mike Hastings said.
Now that his college days are winding down, Hayes could realize his ultimate goal. He has a shot at the NHL.
"It's kinda how my hockey career has been. I started at the bottom, kind of worked my way to the top," he said.
"I think he's gonna have more than one opportunity to be able to play and I think it won't be long after he's done playing for us that he'll be in another jersey playing professional hockey," Hastings said.
"I think it says a little something about, people can get from a small place, small town, to wherever they want to go," Hayes said.