One of the keys to developing and honing one’s skill is seeing a lot of ice time.
That didn’t come easy for Montreal Canadiens prospect Hayden Hawkey over the past two seasons. An injury cut his final year of junior hockey short and he started just two games his freshman year behind Nick Ellis, who is now in the Edmonton Oilers’ organization.
The 2016-17 season has been a welcome change for Hawkey. The sophomore goaltender has started every game for Providence College.
On Wednesday night Hawkey stopped 21 shots in his team’s 4-1 win at the University of Connecticut. It was the eighth straight win for the Friars who are now in third place in Hockey East and ranked seventh in the Pairwise Rankings.
“I thought he played real well tonight,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman after the game. “He had to be on his game. He did a good job playing the puck when he could play the puck.”
“Your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender and he was tonight. He made a couple big stops when they were making their push in the second period,” Leaman added.
Hawkey’s teammates gave him goal support in the first period as the Friars took a 2-0 lead and held a commanding 17-3 advantage in shots on goal. The only goal Hawkey gave up to the Huskies was a shorthanded breakaway tally by Karl El-Mir.
“I felt good. The guys made it easy. It’s always a little easier playing with a lead,” Hawkey said after the game.
Over the first 21 games of the season the Friars were just 9-8-4. Hawkey’s save percentage was at .905, hardly good enough in the minds of most coaches. Since then his save percentage has been .930.
“I’ve just matured a bit. I’ve learned from some good and some bad experiences,” said Hawkey, who was drafted by the Canadiens in sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft out of the Omaha Lancers.
Hawkey downplayed the lack of ice time over the past two seasons, but admitted there was an adjustment to being the man between the pipes for one of the premier programs in college hockey.
“There was a huge learning curve for sure. I knew how to play. I just had to find my way again,” said the Parker, Colo. native.
Hawkey, who stands at 6-foot-2, is an athletic goaltender who skates well in the crease and tries to combine his physical stature with sound fundamentals.
“I’m a hard working kid who battles for pucks and battles to see pucks. I try to get in front of shots, not reach too much, and keep everything in front of me. I try to have good rebound control,” Hawkey explained.
Hawkey has the luxury of working in practice with assistant coach Kris Mayotte, a former collegiate goaltender at Union who most recently worked with USA Hockey at the 2017 World Junior Championships. He credits Mayotte with helping his development over the past two seasons.
“[Mayotte] has been great. Everything we work on is footwork-based. He has tried to get me out of the blue paint. It’s been huge for me,” said Hawkey.
Hawkey’s turnaround has come simultaneously with the Friars’ offense finding its groove. Providence has averaged 3.63 goals per game over the eight-game winning streak.
The defense has also stepped up its game. Led by puck-moving junior defenseman Jake Walman, the Friars’ blue liners have been exceptional on gaps and keeping possession away from their opponents. Providence has allowed just 22.9 shots on goals over the last 10 games.
“We have some elite guys on defense. Every one of our guys plays a certain role and guys do that day in and day out,” said Hawkey.
The Friars leaped past UMass Lowell and Notre Dame and into third place with the two points they earned in Hartford. Hawkey and his teammates return to action Friday with the conclusion of their series against UConn before heading out to face the Fighting Irish for a pair in South Bend.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time. We’re dealing with whatever comes our way,” Hawkey said.