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Hard work pays off

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Goaltender Hayden Hawkey caught his coach’s eye long before his freshman campaign at Providence College began.

Hawkey, who arrived on campus in Rhode Island months ahead of schedule to continue rehabbing a tough lower-body injury and begin taking classes, impressed veteran bench boss Nate Leaman on a number of fronts heading into the 2015-16 campaign.

After recovering from a serious knee injury, Hayden Hawkey is making the most of his time with Providence to further develop his game.

“I’ve seen a lot from him in a short time – and we really, really like what we see. He certainly has high-end potential. I loved the work ethic he had during his recovery over the summer, working out twice a day. He was in the pool. He was in the weight room. It’s been pretty remarkable. He had to grind it out every day. With the way Hayden’s worked to get back, I think he’s in a really good spot right now and I can confirm that he’s 100 percent healthy,” offered Leaman, referencing the 20-year-old’s return to active duty this past October after undergoing surgery in December 2014 to repair ACL and MCL tears in his left knee.

“Spending time with him during his rehab, I think the most important thing I learned is that he can battle through adversity. That’s the hardest thing you’re trying to teach guys at this level because a lot of them haven’t faced it yet,” added Leaman, who has been at the helm of the defending NCAA Division I champion Friars for the last four-plus seasons following lengthy coaching stints at Union College and Harvard University. “The fact that Hayden made the decision to spend the summer in Providence, push his body and trust the training staff – all of those things really resonated with us about his character and his ability.”

It certainly wasn’t the way the Parker, CO native intended to wrap up his USHL career before making the jump to the collegiate ranks in Hockey East. Back in 2013-14, Hawkey garnered Goaltender of the Year honors after registering a 22-6-3 record in Omaha, in addition to posting a league-leading 1.99 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. The following year – just five months after the Canadiens’ brass made him their sixth-round pick at the NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia – he went down in a game against the Tri-City Storm after being involved in a goal-crease collision that brought his 2014-15 season to an abrupt end.

Needless to say, it’s been a long road back since.

“The last year has been a battle, but in the long run I think it’s made me a better person and a better hockey player. It was a learning experience. That’s how I look at it every day. You’ve got to keep putting the work in, get better and learn from the things you’re missing out on when you’re hurt. You can’t let an injury overtake you,” shared Hawkey, who is one of just four netminders drafted by the CH since Carey Price joined the fold in 2005. “From the time I got hurt to the time I was cleared to play again, it was about nine months. Once you’re cleared to play, though, you’re not the same person you were when the injury happened. I kind of had to re-learn everything. I’d say I only started really feeling like myself at the beginning of November, so it took almost a full year.”

Hawkey attended the Canadiens' Development Camp back in 2014 after being selected 177th overall in Philadelphia.

As you might expect, watching from the sidelines for the better part of last year wasn’t easy for a fiery competitor like Hawkey, who was coming off a remarkable season between the pipes. While resting and recuperating, though, he tried to stay involved in hockey as best he could – even if suiting up for real was still a long way off.

“All throughout the springtime, I watched a lot of NHL hockey. I think that’s one of the things that kept me sane, just watching guys like Carey Price and Jonathan Quick, and just seeing guys play the game and compete. It kept my brain in it,” shared Hawkey, who is majoring in finance at Providence. “My coaches in Omaha were also great. They actually gave me the opportunity to come back after surgery, rehab with the team for the rest of the season and kind of take on the role of player-coach. I was there every single day for practice, so I was still around the team. It gave me a new outlook on the game, the opportunity to kind of step back and see the bigger picture and appreciate what was going on a little more.”

With the injury behind him, Hawkey is now facing the challenge of adjusting to the ins and outs of the NCAA game. According to Leaman, it’s been smooth sailing so far, even if the Friars’ No. 31 hasn’t been given much playing time through the first four months of the season while backing up Junior starter Nick Ellis.

“Hayden’s practices are his games right now. He’s approached it the right way. He’s gotten so much better from the beginning of the year to where he is now that I actually think he’s competing for the job,” admitted Leaman, who watched Hawkey backstop Providence to a 4-3 win over Colgate University in his lone start back on Oct. 31 with a 24-save effort in Hamilton, NY. “Despite Nick’s numbers, we feel like every day in practice we’re watching Hayden and kind of rating him and considering him for the lineup. It would have been easy for him to put his head down and say – ‘It’s not my year’ – but, he’s kept battling and battling and battling. He’s continued to develop because he’s working so hard in goalie sessions and practices.”

That’s just the way Hawkey has always gone about his business, and it’s clearly served him well early on in the Ocean State. Given the success the Friars have enjoyed so far this season – ranking fourth in the nation in the latest national polls – Hawkey knows full-well there really isn’t anything to complain about.

“Of course there are times when you might get a little bummed out [about not playing], but then I think to myself – ‘Would you rather be where you were a year ago?’ Every single time, the answer is no. I just picture myself on the couch not being able to do much of anything, so I wouldn’t trade the position I’m in right now for the world. I wouldn’t trade it for getting bag-skated two hours a day,” confided Hawkey, who has also made two relief appearances for Providence this season, and boasts a 3.27 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage in 91:40 of work.

Hawkey was a standout with the USHL's Omaha Lancers prior to joining the Friars in 2015-16.

“I feel like I can step in any weekend, play two games and give our team a big chance to win. The last time I got to play was a couple of weekends ago in relief at Boston College [on Jan. 8], and I felt good when I was out there. That was a good measuring stick because it was the first time I’d played in a couple of months,” added Hawkey, who surrendered two goals on 14 shots in a 7-3 defeat in Chestnut Hill, MA. “If I can do it at Boston College in that situation, I feel like I can do it anywhere. And, if I can overcome an injury like that, then really the sky's the limit. There's nothing I can't take down.”

That sense of self-confidence will undoubtedly serve Hawkey well going forward at Providence, and down the line in the Canadiens organization, too.

“We see a really bright future for Hayden. I think he has the potential to be an All-American,” concluded Leaman, who believes Hawkey has made significant progress in three key areas – rebound control, transition after the save, and in challenging shooters – since the start of the year. “When Hayden gets the opportunity, it’s just a matter of him making sure he’s ready for it. We know he will be. The potential is there, and we certainly think that he’s going to be given that opportunity really soon.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

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