Denver’s Hayton leading the charge at St. Lawrence
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Entering the 2014-15 season, few expected St. Lawrence University to make much noise in the loaded ECAC.
Picked in the preseason to finish 11th, the youthful Saints instead won 20 games, ended up second in the ECAC and reached the conference tournament semifinals. That has carried over to this season where St. Lawrence has flirted with top-20 rankings while further establishing itself as a contender in a conference that at times has boasted four top-10 teams.
A big reason for the Saints’ ascent has been the play of sophomore goaltender Kyle Hayton.
“He’s been a huge factor in our success the last two years,” Saints coach Greg Carvel said. “He came in as a bit of an unknown entity.”
It didn’t stay that way for long. Hayton was well enough known by the end of the season to be selected the conference’s rookie of the year. He started all but one of the Saints’ 37 games, went 20-13-3 and set school records with a 1.95 goals-against average, a .937 save percentage and five shutouts.
“We were a program that took a huge step and he stole some games for us, gave us some confidence,” Carvel said. “Kyle’s a big part of our identity.”
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect some drop-off in Hayton’s play in Year 2 because foes have plenty of video of him to study, but that hasn’t been the case. He ended February with a 16-11-3 record, a 2.09 GAA and a .933 save percentage and was also named a finalist for the 2016 Mike Richter Award as the top goalie in all of NCAA Division I.
Hayton, who played youth hockey for the CC Jr. Tigers, the Colorado Thunderbirds and the Colorado Hockey Club before going to Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep School in Minnesota, quickly entrenched himself as a leader at St. Lawrence.
“We were young last year, six or seven freshmen had to play key roles for us, and he led that class,” Carvel said. “He grabbed the bull by the horns. Kyle is a very fierce competitor. He loves to face any challenge, he loves going to rowdy rinks. When the stakes get higher, he enjoys it more. It’s important to have that in your goalie because your team senses that and feeds off it.”
Hayton deflects the praise, saying only that facing 40 shots per game helped him stay sharp.
“Our program is on the rise,” he said. “It started out tough, facing all those shots, but we made a lot of strides and coach has surrounded me with good players. I’ve always been able to play at a high level because I’ve played with the best players. I played with guys on the Thunderbirds who are in the NHL now – Seth Jones, Jaccob Slavin – and during my four years at Shattuck, I played with tons of talent and had great coaching.”
The benefits worked both ways, Thunderbirds goalie coach Cam Clemenson said.
“Kyle was a hard-working kid. At practice he made his teammates better by how hard he worked and batted.”
Hayton also gives credit to the strong foundation he built in Colorado.
“Buddy Blom was instrumental in my development in Colorado – he has a special place in my heart,” Hayton said. “He worked me so hard to get me better. I struggled with angle breakaways, but he stayed on me until I finally learned. Now, I don’t give them up.”
Hayton, who is pursuing a double major in business and economics, said academics were a big reason he chose St. Lawrence.
“My mom is a teacher and she stressed the importance of education,” he said. “A good school was a priority.”
Hayton and St. Lawrence have been an excellent match, and one gets the impression there are several more chapters yet to be written.
“He’s a kid who has a lot of intangibles that will build our program,” Carvel said.
— Chris Bayee